Liberia: UNMIL Humanitarian Situation Report No. 159

13-26 January 09


- Infestation of caterpillars in Lofa, Bong and Gbarpolu Counties

Infestation of caterpillars in Lofa, Bong and Gbarpolu Counties

The Minister of Agriculture received reports last week that there was a massive invasion of caterpillars in Lofa and Bong Counties. Several communities are also affected in Gbarpolu County close to the border with Bong. Reports indicated that the insects were consuming all vegetation, polluting and contaminating water sources and even invading houses in Bong County. Specimens of the caterpillars from Bong County have now been confirmed to be the "army worm". Over 80 communities in Bong County and several towns in Lofa and Gbarpolu counties have been confirmed to be affected and six towns on the Guinean side have also been affected. It is highly possible that the infestation has also affected the other neighbouring countries of Sierra Leone, and Cote d'Ivoire (the Ministry of Agriculture is in communication with the Embassies and Ministries in these countries). It is difficult to estimate the scope of devastation as reports are pending from the assessment teams recently sent to the field. It is also not known whether all counties are affected by the same type of worms (for example, in Gbarpolu worms don't aggressively devastate vegetation) The impact of the infestation is twofold: it poses a serious threat to food security, especially dry season crops (according to the Ministry of Agriculture, army worms are attacking vegetation including food crops, cocoa and rubber trees in Bong and Lofa counties); and water sources are affected i.e. faeces from the worms have contaminated creeks and rivers which are the only drinking water source in many difficult to access communities. In Gbarpolu County, caterpillars (species not confirmed) were found only in Dahome trees and so far had not caused any damage to the vegetation, but had polluted water sources.

President Johnson-Sirleaf declared on Monday, 26 January, "a state of National Emergency with particular emphasis on the existing and potentially affected counties".

In response to the infestation, an Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Containment of Caterpillar Infestation was set up and is led by the Ministry of Agriculture and co-chaired by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. Containment strategies as follows are currently being implemented:

- Conduct comprehensive assessments of the scope of devastation in the affected counties in Liberia;

- Assess the effects of the pest infestation on drinking water facilities and rehabilitate wells to ensure accessibility to safe drinking water;

- Set up ground spraying crews (both knapsack and motorized sprayers);

- Devise mechanisms for information sharing between the national government and the affected communities on the severity of the problems (via local chiefs, commissioners, community radios, UNMIL Radio, UNMIL Civil Affairs in affected regions and TV).

The Ministry of Public Works, line ministries in affected counties, NGOs, UNICEF, FAO, WHO and UNMIL, are actively participating in the response providing public health technicians, logistics, fuel, water purification materials, jerry cans, hand pumps and spare parts etc. FAO has assembled a task force including Duo Crop Protection experts from Ghana and Sierra Leone, as well as the Commissioner of Agriculture for ECOWAS to assess the situation, prepare an immediate action plan and devise medium and long-term measures.

In efforts to eliminate these huge hordes of ravenous caterpillars from affected villages in northern Liberia, the Ministry of Agriculture has brought in the country eight motorized sprayers including Solo and Pont and one hundred pieces of Cypemethrim chemicals including Sidalco and Sicorin. The new sprayers have the capacity to go beyond high trees between seven to eight meters high and the chemicals are environmentally friendly.