In the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in Somalia, a swarm of locusts has stripped fruit trees and crops, causing an agricultural emergency in a country already suffering acute food shortages. Arjun Kohli reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
Worried officials in the northeastern area of Puntland say locusts have already eaten their way through hundreds of hectares of farmland.
An unusually heavy rainfall in the Horn of Africa in recent weeks caused dormant eggs in the soil to hatch. The locust swarm, which can number in the tens of millions, has reportedly devastated the Bari region's lush fruit orchards, sending prices for mango, oranges, bananas, and other fruits skyrocketing in local markets.
Scientists from the Desert Locust Control Agency for Eastern Africa are working with the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization to combat the attack.
The FAO's coordinator for Somalia, Graham Farmer, tells VOA that he believes a particularly destructive species called the immature desert locust is to blame for the infestation.
The FAO has reported simultaneous locust outbreaks in Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen, and Farmer says he fears the swarm could make its way as far as the Indian subcontinent.
"They go through different phases and then eventually they reach the phase where they can fly," said Farmer. "The conditions have been right for this to happen at this time. Depending on the way the wind blows, it can be Ethiopia, Eritrea, Yemen, Sudan, Pakistan, India. So, [there is] very much the potential for a regional problem."
Puntland's agriculture ministry says it is powerless to stop the insects and has asked for international assistance.
Meanwhile, aid agencies say insecurity, frequent pirate attacks, and closed borders with Kenya are severely hampering efforts to deliver food and other supplies to Somalis suffering from conflict and drought in other parts of the country.
The deputy head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for Somalia, Matthew Olin, says Somalis in the war-torn capital, Mogadishu, has been the hardest hit.
"There has been an increase in attacks, attacks involving hand grenades and explosive devices," said Olin. "This is making it extremely hard for U.N. national staff and Somali NGOs and international NGOs through their national staff to provide assistance in Mogadishu. The situation in Mogadishu is poor and it has deteriorated in the last week."
A Somali worker for a Western aid agency and his driver were shot to death in Mogadishu late Wednesday in what appears to have been clan-related violence.