While the world could face a new global pandemic with an epicenter in China, insect swarms of apocalyptic proportions threaten to devastate East Africa, according to a United Nations statement cited by The Associated Press.
Coming from Ethiopia and Somalia, Kenya is experiencing the worst desert locust outbreak in 70 years, where in a single day a small swarm can consume enough food to feed more than 30,000 people, said U.N. spokesman Jens Laerke in Geneva.
“This one, ai! This is huge,” lamented Kipkoech Tale, a pest control expert from the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture. “I’m talking about over 20 swarms that we have sprayed. We still have more. And more are coming,” he warned, noting that there is nothing they can do to stop the catastrophe.
“The locals are really scared because they can consume everything,” added Francis Kitoo, deputy director of agriculture in Kitui County, southeast Kenya. “I’ve never seen such a big number,” he warned, determining, “They will lay eggs and start another generation.”
The recent off-season rains reportedly led to “exceptional” breeding conditions for the insects that are currently devouring both crop fields and livestock fodder—the basic pillars of the Kenyan household economy—in an area already hit by food insecurity and armed groups, Al-Jazeera reported.
An average swarm can contain up to 150 million locusts per square kilometer (0.39 square miles)—an area of about 250 football fields—reaching biblical proportions in groups such as the one recorded in northwest Kenya, which measured 60 kilometers long by 40 kilometers wide (37 miles long by 25 miles wide), exceeding the size of the city of London.
So far 70,000 hectares (172,973 acres) have been infested by locusts, which can travel daily distances of up to 150 kilometers (93 miles).
Meanwhile, farmers who try to scare off locusts with rudimentary and ineffective methods are even afraid to let their animals go out to graze.
“Even cows are wondering what is happening,” a desolate local farmer said in The Associated Press report. “Corn, sorghum, cowpeas, they have eaten everything,” he added.
The U.N. announced that it is preparing an emergency response, while the plague continues to make its way to Uganda and Southern Sudan, the latter already threatened by famine as a result of five years of civil war.