The worst locust outbreak that parts of east Africa have seen in 70 years has reached South Sudan, where roughly half the population already faces hunger after years of civil war, officials announced.
Around 2,000 locusts had been spotted in the country, agriculture minister Onyoti Adigo told reporters.
The locusts have been seen in Eastern Equatoria state near the borders with Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. All have been affected by the outbreak that has been influenced by the changing climate in the region.
The situation in those three countries “remains extremely alarming”, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said in its latest Locust Watch update. Locusts have also reached Sudan, Eritrea, Tanzania and more recently Uganda.
The soil in Eastern Equatoria has a sandy nature that allows the locusts to lay eggs easily, said Meshack Malo, country representative with the UNFAO.
“If we are not able to deal with them … it will be a problem,” he said.
South Sudan is even less prepared than other countries in the region for a locust outbreak, and its people are arguably more vulnerable. More than five million are severely food insecure, the UN humanitarian office said in its latest assessment, and 860,000 children are malnourished.
Five years of civil war shattered the economy, and lingering insecurity since a 2018 peace deal continues to endanger humanitarians trying to distribute aid. Another local aid worker was shot and killed last week, the UN said.
The locusts have travelled in swarms the size of major cities. Experts say the only effective control is aerial spraying with pesticides, but UN and local authorities have said more aircraft and pesticides are required. The UN has said $76m is needed immediately.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday during a visit to Ethiopia that Washington would donate another $8m to the effort, which follows an earlier $800,000.
The number of locusts could grow up to 500 times by June, when drier weather begins, experts have said. Until then, the fear is that more rain in coming weeks will bring fresh vegetation to feed a new generation of the voracious insects.
South Sudanese ministers called for a collective regional response to the outbreak that threatens to devastate crops and pasturage.