Locusts invasion: dark days for Northern Uganda

Photograph: Daniel Irungu/EPA

On the 8th February 2020, a one Randy Skeete tweeted “2 Chron 7: 13-14 is the answer to locusts’ plagues.” The same Bible verse reads in full  “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” East Africa is already struggling to stop further spread the deadly locusts’ invasion in recent decades.

As of 10th February 2020, a plague of locusts is infesting much of the Karamoja Sub-region in the Districts of Abim, Moroto, Amudat and Nakapiripiriti. The locusts entered Uganda through North Pokot of Kenya on 9th February 2020 at 14:00 hours. Over the past few weeks, the flying insects have advanced like a moving carpet over huge areas of land, devouring all vegetation. Such an ambush has not been seen for decades. The locusts have created a lot of panic among the pastoralists. The local communities have resorted to burning bushes as they wait for government interventions.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the locusts were first spotted in June 2018 in the Arabian Peninsula. In July 2019, FAO warned that the locusts could migrate from Yemen in Autumn and reach Kenya, before end of 2019. FAO warned that if nothing is done to prevent the deadly inspects, East Africa could be in a hunger crisis especially in regions where there is conflict. In response, nothing was done.

The swarms can travel 150km in a day. How can the swarms be stopped? Pesticides are the most effective means. Sprayed from the air or from a tractor, they generally kill locusts within 24 hours. However, environmentalists fear that spreading wide areas with chemicals may harm people and other animals given the fact most of the Karomoja Sub-region are pastoral communities.

The immediate outlook is not encouraging. The Ugandan government, having bought pesticides, is in intensive preparations to start spraying; and the activity is expected to by conducted by the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces. Experts say that at least 6m hectares need to be treated if Uganda is to prevent further attack of the locusts.

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