The United Nations say an exceptionally high locust infestation expected this year in Tajikistan could threaten the east European nation's food supply. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says urgent action must be taken to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.  Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is appealing for $500,000 to stop the plague of locusts in its tracks.  With this money, the FAO says it will be able to buy the pesticides and equipment necessary to stop the locust infestation. 

A U.N. humanitarian spokeswoman, Elizabeth Byrs, says more than 150,000 hectares of land could become infested with the insects. This is an increase of nearly 30 percent from 2007.  She says infestation is currently covering about one-third of the country, putting more than two million people at risk.

"This year, the infestation is quicker and bigger, larger than the previous year and if urgent action is not taken, this could affect the food security of the population in Tajikistan," she said.

U.N. officials explain the large increase in locusts is due to both favorable weather conditions and incomplete spraying last year. This, they say, is allowing larger than normal amounts of locust eggs to mature to adult stage. 

Byrs says the plague could be controlled for just $500,000.  She says this is very inexpensive compared to what it will cost the international community if it allows the locust infestation to get out of hand. 

Locusts are only one of several crises affecting the people of Tajikistan.  The country had suffered from a seriously cold winter with heavy snowfall.  Now that spring is here, the snow is melting, creating the risk of flash floods and landslides. Byrs says more than 400 villages are at risk.

"We have sent an assessment mission," she added.  "A helicopter has assessed the amount of snow in the mountains in order to have an idea of the households, which would be affected by those flash floods.  And, our estimate is that 1,500 households could be affected in one way or another by those flash floods or/and landslides in this area."   

The United Nations and the government of Tajikistan launched an appeal for $25 million in mid-February.  Less than half that amount so far has been received. 

Byrs says the appeal will probably have to be updated to reflect the threat of landslides and locusts.