The worst outbreak of desert locusts in Kenya in 70 years has seen hundreds of millions of the insects swarm into the east African nation from Somalia and Ethiopia.
Those two countries have not had an infestation like this in a quarter century, destroying farmland and threatening an already vulnerable region with devastating hunger.
When rains arrive in March and bring new vegetation across much of the region, the numbers of the fast-breeding locusts could grow 500 times before drier weather in June curbs their spread, the United Nations said.
“We must act immediately,” said David Phiri of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), as donors huddled in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, a three-hour drive away.
About $70m is needed to step up aerial pesticide spraying, the only effective way to combat them, the UN said. That won’t be easy, especially in Somalia, where parts of the country are in the grip of the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group.
Even a small swarm of the insects can consume enough food for 35,000 people in a single day, said Jens Laerke of the UN humanitarian office in Geneva.
Farmers are afraid to let their cattle out for grazing, and their crops of millet, sorghum and maize are vulnerable, but there is little they can do.
About 70,000 hectares of land in Kenya are already infested.
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