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UK aid to combat Africa’s worst locust outbreak in decades

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The Guardian, BBC’s Focus on Africa and BBC Newsday have reported on new UK support to tackle the devastating locust outbreak in East Africa, featuring a UK-funded supercomputer that is helping countries in the region to track and predict the insects’ movements around the continent.

The innovative technology – supported by UK aid and the UK Met Office – also produces extensive weather forecasts to predict the high winds, rainfall, and humidity that provide ideal breeding conditions for locusts so climate experts can predict their next destination. By improving early warning systems we are helping charities and African Governments to take rapid action to protect vulnerable communities.

The UK is also providing £5 million to an emergency UN appeal to help vulnerable communities in East Africa use this data to prepare for the arrival of locusts. This support will fund surveillance of the locusts and the spraying of aerial pesticides to kill the insects, protecting 78,000 hectares of land.

Climate expert Kenneth Mwangi, from the regional Kenya climate weather agency (ICPAC) who uses the supercomputer, is featured across the coverage and emphasises that it has achieved 90% accuracy in predicting where the locusts will go to next. As a result, the Ugandan Government were able to mobilise the army to direct their spraying efforts, helping to control the hoppers before they swarm.

The UN World Meteorological Organization in New York are quoted in the piece saying the reports from the supercomputer are enabling them to be at the forefront of the response.

Today, The Times has published an opinion piece by Jenni Russell, who has called on governments around the world to do more.

This UK has acted quickly and stepped up to combat the spread of dangerous locusts in already fragile countries. UK aid has:

  • Provided £5 million to an emergency UN appeal to help vulnerable communities in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti and Tanzania prepare for the arrival of locusts.
  • Helped the FAO to protect 73,000 hectares across East Africa, supplied almost 290,000 litres of pesticides and trained 600 people to carry out surveillance to stop the locust spread. The UN Central Emergency Reserve Fund (CERF) provided £7.6 million towards these operations and the UK is the largest contributor to CERF.
  • Provided expertise and innovative technology to develop early warning systems that are enabling African governments to prepare and take rapid action. This will also help to manage outbreaks in the future before they can cause damage.
  • Supported Africa to build its resilience to climate change and helped vulnerable communities cope better with extreme weather by improving access to clean water, and providing drought-resistant seeds, farming tools and nutrition packs to families.
  • Given £17 million to the FAO that is helping farmers in Africa to grow crops resistant to plant pests and diseases to protect vital livelihoods.
  • Supported the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, which is giving farmers access to the latest agricultural technologies which will boost their productivity and incomes.

DFID will continue to work with our international partners and other donors to stop the locust outbreak, which is robbing people on the brink of starvation of much-needed food.

International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said:

“The devastating locust outbreak in East Africa has paralysed communities that are already facing the daily threat of starvation.

“Through UK aid and British expertise, we are helping to track, stop and kill dangerous swarms of locust to help millions of people fighting for survival.

“With rising temperatures and increasing cyclones driving these infestations, Britain is stepping up to help vulnerable communities prepare for and adapt to the catastrophic impacts of climate change.”

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