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UN Says Locust Swarm Heading to War-Ravaged Darfur - 2004-08-11


The Darfur region of Sudan, the scene of possible genocide and the displacement of over one million people, may face yet another problem. Swarms of locusts are reported in neighboring Chad, about 400 kilometers from Darfur.

The locust swarms in Chad are believed to have escaped eradication efforts in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. Besides Chad, large infestations are now reported in Mauritania, Mali and Niger.

Dr. Clive Elliot of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome says the locusts have two objectives. Eat as much vegetation as possible so they can mature. Then, lay their eggs. Dr. Elliot says Darfur - a vast desert area in the midst of the rainy season - may be a perfect location.

"The second objective is to find suitable places to lay their eggs, which means nice, sandy soil, which they can push their eggs into relatively easily," Dr. Elliot says. "The soil has to be damp, preferably damp, but certainly not flooded."

If the locusts do lay eggs in Darfur, they could further hinder farming, already disrupted by more than a year of conflict. The central part of Sudan could also be affected.

"We're talking all the time about the desert locust, which is the famous locust which made it into both the Bible and the Koran," Dr. Elliot says. "That is the species we're talking about. There are a few other species wandering around the place as well."

The FAO is coordinating efforts by international donors and the affected countries to carry out aerial spraying of the locust swarms. The FAO says it's also possible the locusts could reinvade North Africa in a few months.