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UN Warns of Potential Locust Invasion in Flood-Stricken West Africa

The United Nations warns floods in West Africa could provoke an invasion of locusts in Mali and Niger. It says it is critically important that UN experts be given access to the locust-prone region so they can monitor the situation and head off a potentially disastrous situation. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The United Nations says more than 500,000 people in 12 countries in West Africa are affected by the torrential rains that have fallen since early August. It says dozens of people have been killed, hundreds of thousands have been made homeless, major bridges have collapsed, crops and livelihoods have been destroyed.

U.N. officials say a new concern is the possibility of outbreaks of waterborne diseases if emergency assistance does not reach the affected areas soon. They say the situation is particularly worrisome in Ghana where 260,000 people are affected. The President of Ghana has declared parts of the country a disaster zone.

A Spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Elizabeth Byrs, says conditions are also favorable for an infestation of locusts. She says Niger and Mali are particularly susceptible.

"Because of those floods, some regions are not monitored with regards to locust invasion, because you cannot access those regions because of the floods," she explained. "And, the condition, stagnant water, high temperature are very favorable to the development of a locust invasion. That is why we are concerned and that is why there is an important threat in Mali and in Niger."

Byrs says experts so far have not been able to access locust-prone areas of Mali and Niger to monitor the situation. She says it is very important that authorities in these countries make it possible for them to access these areas so they can try to head off a locust infestation. If this is not done, she warns the consequences will be devastating.

"Those locusts eat the crops," she added. "They eat everything. And, as a consequence, the cattle cannot find its food, its own food. It cannot eat. And then you have a vicious circle - cattle dying, no crops and nothing to eat for those populations. So, the consequence is malnutrition."

An infestation of locusts in Niger two years ago resulted in widespread famine and acute malnutrition. Television images of skeletal children shocked the world.

The United Nations says flood victims in West Africa are in urgent need of food, shelter and medicine. Byrs says the United Nations will launch an appeal for emergency assistance in the near future.