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Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mr. Mark Lowcock Remarks – FAO virtual briefing on Desert Locust Upsurge and launch of revised appeal

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Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us. And thanks, Dongyu, for inviting me today. I have been following the Desert Locust situation with ever-growing concern since Dongyu first brought it to my attention when we were in Davos together early this year.

You all know the staggering statistics about the Desert Locust – they are the oldest and most destructive migratory pest in the world. Their swarms can devastate crops and pastures remarkably quickly and thoroughly, with potentially massive implications for food security and livelihoods.

To date, so far this upsurge has hit the Greater Horn of Africa – that’s Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia – hardest. The region is home to almost 20 per cent of people across the world who are already severely food-insecure and who already need humanitarian food and livelihood assistance. And now, they are facing a triple threat: of locusts, flooding (which exacerbates the locusts’ potential for breeding), and the spread of COVID-19 alongside the socio-economic hardship the disease pandemic is bringing with it.

To prevent another major shock for people who have already suffered so much, FAO under Dongyu’s leadership, and OCHA have been working together with IGAD, NGOs, UN and Member State partners for months now to try to raise the alarm and urge maximum support for locust control and related livelihood interventions. If we anticipate and prevent the worst of this crisis we will save a lot of money and reduce a lot of suffering. This collaboration is how we can best pursue that strategy of anticipatory planning, and then response.

Donors have responded generously. Thank you. Your support has enabled the control of more than 323,000 hectares of land in the Greater Horn of Africa, and almost 400 000 hectares across the ten countries covered by the FAO appeal. Preliminary estimates indicate that these control efforts saved around 720,000 tonnes of cereals – worth more than US$220 million – in East Africa and Yemen. That is enough to feed almost five million people for one year.

The damage averted has also spared an additional 350,000 pastoral households from livelihood loss and distress. Beyond these large-scale control efforts, governments and humanitarian partners are working to save lives and livelihoods through cash and in-kind assistance to pastoralist and farming communities hardest hit by the crisis.

Unfortunately, however, this has not been enough to contain this plague and its devastating consequences. The heavy rains that have affected more than 1.8 million people in Eastern Africa – displacing more than 800,000 of them - have resulted in conditions conducive to more Desert Locust breeding. Challenging terrain and security-related access challenges have hindered locust control operations. And, despite the strong commitment of Governments in the region to the Locust response, COVID-19 containment measures around the world are also contributing to delays in getting supplies and personnel into countries affected by the locust upsurge.

In January, when I allocated $10 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund to FAO to kick-start locust control operations, we were talking about three affected countries. By February 10th, when I co-hosted a Member State briefing with Dongyu in New York, five countries were affected. And a mere 10 days later, the number of countries affected had risen to eight. By March, it had grown to 10, and FAO was seeking more than twice the initial sum requested. We have already seen how quickly this scourge can spread.

FAO is finalizing a revised appeal which will call for US$311 million to support the locust response, already ongoing in the Greater Horn of Africa, and to scale up response efforts in the Arabian Peninsula and Southwest Asia. We are also concerned about the risk of a further spread to the Sahel region if it is not halted by July.

I want to remind everyone that more than 25 million people are already facing acute food insecurity (that’s IPC Phase 3) or worse in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. More than 11 million of these people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are located in areas currently affected by the Desert Locust infestation. A further 2.76 million people in South Sudan and 120,000 people in Uganda are under threat from expanding swarms.

I welcome your generous contributions to date and urge you to continue to support the Desert Locust response. It is essential that we sustain gains on surveillance and control efforts, and that we increase action to save lives and livelihoods, particularly in the Greater Horn of Africa, now approaching the harvest season. We must anticipate and pre-empt approach especially to deal with the risks in West Africa. And we must scale up activities in south west Asia, Eastern Africa, and Near East and North Africa to combat emerging Desert Locust threats.

We are all aware that the world’s attention is largely focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. But it would be a mistake to lose sight of other equally devastating humanitarian emergencies. Millions of people depend on us.

Thank you.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.