• Interview with Richard Munang, United Nations Environment Programme expert on climate and Africa

East African nations have been battling with swarms of desert locusts since the beginning of 2020. In what is being called the worst outbreak the region has seen in decades, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations warns that rising numbers of desert locusts present an extremely alarming threat to food security and livelihoods in the Horn of Africa.

According to the organization’s recent update on the desert locust upsurge, the current situation may be further worsened by new breeding that will produce more locust infestations in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia and possibly further afield.

We interviewed Richard Munang, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) expert on climate and Africa, on the relationship between environmental factors, climate change and the locust emergency.

What is the relationship between locusts and and climate change?

During quiet periods — known as recessions — desert locusts are usually restricted to the semi-arid and arid deserts of Africa, the Near East and South-West Asia that receive less than 200 mm of rain annually. In normal conditions, locust numbers decrease either by natural mortality or through migration.

However, the last five years have been hotter than any other since the industrial revolution and since 2009. Studies have linked a hotter climate to more damaging locust swarms, leaving Africa disproportionately affected — 20 of the fastest warming countries globally are in Africa. Wet weather also favours multiplication of locusts. Widespread, above average rain that pounded the Horn of Africa from October to December 2019 were up to 400 per cent above normal rainfall amount. These abnormal rains were caused by the Indian Ocean dipole, a phenomenon accentuated by climate change.

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What is the role of the United Nations in locust control?

The United Nations’ response to locust attack control is multi-agency in nature. While the immediate sector at risk is food security, climate change plays an exacerbating role.

One of UNEP’s roles is to disseminate the latest science on emerging climate trends to inform cross-sectorial policies and ensure resilience is built in the relevant sectors.

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Source: UN Environment Programme, https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/locust-swarms-and-climate-change