"The locust emergency is not yet over because favourable rains in breeding areas in the Sahel could allow scattered populations to breed successfully, triggering new outbreaks in some countries," said FAO Director-General Dr Jacques Diouf, addressing donor representatives at a meeting in Rome.
Several desert locust swarms that had remained in Guinea in West Africa up to April 2005 moved gradually across the Sahel infesting Chad in early May, the conflict-ridden Darfur region in Sudan in late May, and northern Ethiopia in June laying eggs on the way.
The situation remains critical in Chad and western Sudan where an outbreak could still develop, FAO said.
Traditional locust breeding areas in Mauritania as well as in Algeria and Morocco are now generally free from locust infestations, FAO said. Spring breeding in the Maghreb was much reduced by extensive control operations that were conducted for six months and by the unusually cold weather. As a result, few locusts have so far moved back into the Sahel at the beginning of this summer.
"FAO is prepared for the probable scenario with locusts infesting between 50 000 and 250 000 hectares of land in the next months," Dr Diouf said. "The worst case scenario, with infestations over one million ha, can be ruled out," he added.
Massive donor support
Since the start of the locust crisis in October 2003, donor countries have provided $74 million, to which FAO added $6 million from its own resources.
"Thanks to this massive donor support, FAO has assisted 18 locust affected countries (1) with around $45 million in their control campaigns," Dr Diouf said. This led to the treatment of 13 million ha of infestations, of which nearly three million ha were carried out in the Sahel.
The UN agency provided overall leadership of the campaign, issued alerts and warnings, and delivered, with donor resources, nearly 60 percent of the pesticides used, 50 vehicles, numerous sprayers, communication equipment, protective clothing and technical advice.
Particular attention has been paid to the health of operators and environmental issues. This included training monitoring teams, organizing blood tests for operators, testing the alternative biopesticide Green Muscle=AE, and organizing clean-up operations, including destroying empty pesticide drums.
Around 600 experts from ten countries in the Sahel and Maghreb have participated in a training programme on locust control, pesticide management and disposal, and environmental issues. Further training for another 14 countries will start in August.
"Thanks to donor support and the efforts of the locust affected countries, current locust infestations are lower this year and countries are much better prepared today than twelve months ago," Dr Diouf said.
FAO locust experts are now on site in four of the front-line countries in the Sahel and helicopters will be used in Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger for monitoring the situation. Spray aircraft will be on standby if the locust situation worsens. Pesticide stocks are more than adequate. Algeria has provided survey teams and helicopters to Mali and Niger.
"Barring any unexpected developments, the outlook for returning to a normal locust situation by the end of the year is good," Dr Diouf said.
(1) Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen.
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