Billions of desert locusts which have been swarming over the Horn of Africa since the start of the year could soon head west to the Sahel, one of the most food-insecure regions in the world, the United Nations has warned.
"We have witnessed the unprecedented desert locust threat to food security and livelihoods in East Africa, and we are doing everything we can to prevent a similar crisis repeating in the Sahel region, which is already experiencing several ongoing crises," the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in a statement, quoted by Xinhua News Agency.
The Sahel region running south of the Sahara desert faces cyclical bouts of famine and food shortages every few years.
The region is often referred to as ground zero for global warming and suffers from widespread desertification and increasingly unpredictable rainfall.
At the same time, jihadist and armed groups fighting across Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad have displaced about a million people in the last year and disrupted the region's already fragile food supply, scaring farmers away from market places and their fields.
The pandemic and accompanying national lockdowns have made things far worse. The number of food-insecure people in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger rose by one million to 4.8 million since the start of the outbreak, according to figures released in May by the World Food Programme.
Experts fear these numbers could double or even triple as lockdown measures and a global economic downturn continue to hit the most vulnerable.
The FAO warned that the swarms of desert locusts, deemed "the most destructive migratory pest in the world" by the organisation, could make the situation far worse.
Billions of desert locusts have been raging across large swathes of Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Yemen since the start of the year, destroying crops.
A single swarm can contain up to 80 million locusts and eat as much food as 35,000 people and fly 30 to 80 miles in one day. The organisation said that most of the swarms in north west Kenya are expected to ride winds carrying them north to cross South Sudan into Sudan.
"Unless it rains more in Sudan's desert, providing favourable breeding conditions for the pests, the locusts will not stay in Sudan for long and would instead move west through the Sahel of West Africa in search of food and favourable breeding areas," the FAO added.
The World Bank has estimated that the cost of supporting farmers and producers affected by locusts in East Africa and Yemen alone could reach $8.5bn (£6.5bn) by the end of 2020.
In late July, the UK International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan warned that the East African locust swarms were now growing to about 20 times what they were in March and announced that Britain would spend £18m to support the affected countries.
Source: News Agencies