The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is sending $10 million to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to help combat a devastating locust infestation in East Africa and Horn nations.
“The locust invasion is the worst Kenya has seen in 70 years, and the worst in nearly a generation in Somalia and Ethiopia,” the foundation said in a statement. “Djibouti and Eritrea are also affected, and swarms have now reached neighboring Tanzania and Uganda.”
The news comes as FAO chief Qu Dongyu, World Food Program head David Beasley, and Mark Lowcock, the UN emergency relief coordinator, warned that the window is closing to fund a robust response in time to avoid the worst consequences from the extensive locust crop damage.
“The locust upsurge affecting East Africa is a graphic and shocking reminder of this region’s vulnerability. This is a scourge of biblical proportions,” they said in a joint statement. “Yet as ancient as this scourge is, its scale today is unprecedented in modern times.”
FAO asked for $76 million in donations a month ago to control the outbreak, but swarms have only grown as they waited for help, they said. Now the cost of responding to the crisis has reached $138 million.
“Each day, more countries are affected,” they said Tuesday. “Last week, a swarm crossed into one of Africa’s most food-insecure and fragile countries, South Sudan. Just this week, it was confirmed that one swarm reached the eastern boundaries of the Democratic Republic of the Congo – a country that has not seen a locust incursion since 1944.”
WFP says the cost to respond to the food insecurity because of the locusts is at least 15 times higher than the cost of preventing the spread now.
“The math is clear, as is our moral obligation,” the UN agency heads said. “Pay a little now, or pay a lot more later.”
Image: FAO/ Sven Torfinn file