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Arab Spring fallout new threat to Sahel food crisis

Farmers inspect their crops that have been eaten by locusts
Farmers inspect their crops that have been eaten by locusts
July 5, 2012

The Arab Spring, which saw the overthrow of the Gadaffi regime, is having an unanticipated ripple effect upon the Sahel Region where a food insecurity and nutritional crisis is threatening more than four million children.

Heavy rains in late 2011 and early 2012 have created perfect conditions for infestation. The locusts were first reported in south-east Algeria and south-west Libya in January. Although governments moved to treat affected areas, insecurity along the Algerian-Libyan border prevented full access. Locusts have since migrated to northern Mali and Niger at the end of May. Swarms have already caused damage to date palms and harvests in the Ténéré Desert in northern Niger. In northern Mali, they cannot be treated due to the current security situation.

Experts have added that locust infestation, which was first observed on the Libya/Algeria border, has travelled south and is threatening crops and pastures in the Sahel as planting is underway.

“If this is not tackled, it could likely push the four million children, currently at risk, over the edge into malnutrition,” said Roland Berehoudougou, Plan's West Africa Regional Disaster Risk Manager.

A food shortage, due to lower than normal harvests in 2011, has put more than one million children at risk of severe acute malnutrition and three million children of moderate acute malnutrition. Many children have been taken out of school and sent to work raising the spectre of exploitation and abuse and the need for child protection and education assistance.

"We are therefore reviewing our plans and bracing for an extended emergency response in Niger and Mali. We are watching this development with much fear because the swarms are likely to travel down along the Niger/Nigerian border across fertile agricultural land causing severe damage to growing crops. This is not an annual chronic food shortage. It is a complex emergency of affordable food, conflict, cholera and locust infestation with more than four million children sitting right in the bull's-eye," he said.

Swarms can contain 40-80 million locusts per square kilometer with some swarms as large as 1200 square kilometers (48-96 billion locusts) eating the equivalent of their own weight of vegetation in a day. The last major infestation in West Africa was in 2004-2005.

Plan requires $22 million to respond to this crisis but has a shortfall of $15 million. Its response for the region is focused on child protection, education, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and health for children under five, pregnant women, nursing mothers and families.

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