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Humanitarian agencies fear looming locust catastrophe

Ulrika Blom, the Country Director for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Uganda said funding shortages for the growing refugee population will only worsen now that the locusts have invaded parts of the country.

“Within the precarious refugee setting, it is especially worrying for host communities, who risk having their small livelihoods destroyed, and are then forced to rely on humanitarian support that is already shamefully inadequate.”

“The locust threat must provoke an urgent, and coordinated, response from donors to prevent tipping millions into a humanitarian catastrophe,” Tricks added.

The desert locusts invaded Uganda on Feb. 09 from neighbouring Kenya through the northeastern district of Amudat in Karamoja sub-region and have since been seen in more than 20 districts in Teso, Lango, Acholi and Sebei.

These regions are known to be the leading producers of cereals (maize, wheat, barley, sorghum, and millet), root crops (sweet potatoes and cassava), pulses (beans and pigeon peas) and oil crops (soy beans, simsim and sunflower).

In Uganda, the government has so far mobilized close to Shs 38bn from its treasury and development partners to buy appropriate equipment and pesticides and lease an aircraft to help spray the locusts. But some insect scientists The Independent has talked to say Uganda will have to find more resources to defeat the stubborn locusts.

Realizing what is at stake, the UN through its World Food Programme recently gave five food trucks to the government of Uganda to help transport equipment and logistics to districts invaded by locusts.

Speaking at the handover ceremony in Kampala, the UN head, supply chain unit, Oleh Maslyukov said the trucks were offered after a request by the government of Uganda through its Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries.

Maslyukov said they had to respond immediately because Uganda is a major food basket for the region and that they could not afford to see locusts cause destruction in the affected districts.

“There is an interest from WFP in fighting locusts because we are buying a lot from the Ugandan market; it is really in the interest of WFP to get more crops on the local market that will be available for in country programmes and for the region as well,” Maslyukov said.

In 2018, the UN bought almost 200,000 metric tonnes of food produce worth US$ 50 million. In 2019, the agency bought 53,000 metric tonnes, while in 2020; the UN has so far bought 35,000 metric tonnes of food from Uganda.

EU response

The European Union also announced on Feb. 27 its commitment to join the fight against desert locusts.  The EU contributed €10 million in addition to the €1 million already mobilized from humanitarian funds.

The EU expressed fear that the outbreak could have devastating consequences on food security in an already vulnerable region where millions of people suffer from severe food insecurity.

Jutta Urpilainen, the commissioner for international partnerships stressed that the crisis shows, once again, how fragile food systems can be when facing threats.

“We must enhance the capacity to collectively respond to these threats and we also have a responsibility to step in now with resolve to avoid a major crisis, tackle the root causes of this natural disaster, and protect livelihoods and food production,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has also committed US$ 10 million to help FAO and several governments in the region confront the critical need for rapid control of the infestation, including aerial control of large swarms.

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