As locust swarms multiply in West Africa States call for international aid

With a very small fraction of the average swarm capable of eating as much food in one day as 2,500 people, nine countries are meeting today in Algiers to discuss regional locust control campaigns that are needed this summer.As good rains have fallen throughout the Sahel (sub-Sahara) region and ecological conditions are favourable, large-scale breeding will commence shortly, causing locust numbers to increase further in West Africa, FAO said in its latest update on the threat. But in northwest Africa, where intensive control operations have been carried out since February, there are signs that the situation is improving.No swarms have been reported in Chad or Darfur, Sudan, but the risk there remains high and there is a potential risk that swarms could also reach Burkina Faso, the agency warned. So far, $9 million of emergency aid has been pledged. FAO has contributed nearly $2 million from its own resources and donors $7 million.Control campaigns in the Sahel are being hampered by a lack of available resources and the difficulty of locating and treating the highly mobile swarms. In 2004, control operations treated a total of 182,000 hectares in Mauritania and 900 hectares in Senegal. Intensive ground and aerial control operations continued in northwest Africa where more than 5 million hectares have been treated so far this year.By mid-July there had been a decline in the number of hectares treated in Morocco and Libya, suggesting that the situation is starting to get better in both countries and should become calm in the region over the next few weeks.A desert locust eats its own weight of food every day, about 2 grams, and swarms range from less than one square kilometre to hundreds of square kilometres in size. There are about 50 million locusts per square kilometres of medium-density swarm. The total number of locusts in a swarm varies from a few hundred million to several billion.

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