Locust outbreak devastating East Africa reaches Congo, UN officials say

A locust outbreak that has devastated parts of East Africa and overwhelmed local officials has reached the Congo, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

The desert locusts, carried in part by the wind, arrived on the western shore of Lake Albert on Friday, marking the first time the voracious insects have been seen in the Central African country since 1944.

Young desert locusts that have not yet grown wings jump in the air as they are approached, as a visiting delegation from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) observes them, in the desert near Garowe, in the semi-autonomous Puntland region of Somalia. 

Young desert locusts that have not yet grown wings jump in the air as they are approached, as a visiting delegation from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) observes them, in the desert near Garowe, in the semi-autonomous Puntland region of Somalia.  (AP)

The worst outbreak that parts of East Africa have seen in 70 years also recently reached South Sudan, a country already devastated by food shortages and years of civil war.

Kenya, Somalia and Uganda also have been battling the locust swarms, which can reach the size of major cities.

The insects can destroy crops and devastate pasture for animals. Experts have warned that the outbreak is affecting millions of already vulnerable people across the region.

Uganda's government said Tuesday it was trying to contain a large swarm and will need more resources to control the infestation. Soldiers have been battling swarms using hand-held spray pumps, while experts have said aerial spraying is the only effective control.

The U.N. recently raised its aid appeal from $76 million to $138 million, saying the need for more help is urgent. Experts have warned that the number of locusts if unchecked could grow 500 times by June.

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A changing climate has contributed to this outbreak as a warming Indian Ocean means more powerful tropical cyclones hitting the region. A cyclone late last year in Somalia brought heavy rains that fed fresh vegetation to fuel the locusts that were carried in by the wind from the Arabian Peninsula.

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A new generation of the locusts has been growing up in the Somalia desert in recent weeks, preparing to take flight as the next wave headed toward Kenya, Ethiopia and beyond.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.