An invasion of locusts is predicted to hit West Africa in the coming weeks as a food crisis in the region enters a new desperate phase.
The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has issued an alert for northern Mali and Niger where swarms of locusts are expected to build in June. According to the FAO, the swarms are currently brewing near the Algeria-Libya border; a result of heavy rainfall late last year, conflict and a lack of pest control. They threaten to destroy remaining crops in a region already devastated by drought.
Reports from World Vision’s office in Chad indicate that locusts are already on the country’s northern border.
And in a cruel twist, young children across the region are scavenging for locusts and insects to survive the worsening food crisis.
“We’ve begun hearing reports of young children hunting and surviving off insects as food rations in their village or community run dry,” said World Vision Australia’s head of Humanitarian & Emergency Affairs Anthea Spinks. “These are heartbreaking stories of survival which highlight the plight of millions of children in West Africa, and sadly the situation is only predicted to get worse.”
Already around 4 million children in Niger, Mali, Chad, Senegal and Mauritania are at risk of acute malnutrition, and 1 million of them are facing the most severe form.
Overall, 18 million people are now in need of food assistance with aid workers predicting June will be critical for families and the vulnerable. Not only have erratic rains and locusts destroyed crops, but in some places the cost of staple foods has increased by up to 100 per cent in three months – the equivalent of a box of cornflakes at a supermarket going from $5.40 to almost $11 since March.
Ms Spinks said the West Africa food crisis is presenting an enormous challenge to aid agencies. “We genuinely are looking at a catastrophic situation if the global community doesn’t act soon,” she said. Sponsorship makes a difference. Children who live in communities where sponsorship is present have their nutritional status, height, weight and school attendance measured so that as soon as it looks like they are threatened World Vision can begin intervening, with donor support, to make sure children do not suffer the worst effects of the drought and food crisis.