Desert locusts, which first entered Uganda on Feb 9, 2020, have since spread in the regions of Karamoja, Teso, Sebei, Lango and Acholi. The locusts are wrecking havoc as they munch down vegetation, putting people under the threat of food insecurity. The government’s financial releases towards fighting the locusts have so far gone to UGX 37bn and more will be needed as more swarms cross into Uganda from Kenya.
Interestingly, in central and other parts of Uganda, where the locusts have not yet reached, many people are still seeing this as a joking matter. They make fun of the whole situation with one pastor claiming that the money was being spent on “locusts in suits”, meaning the people in charge of fighting locusts were out to fleece the government. Certainly not many Ugandans trust their government. Every step by any government official, involving money, is viewed with a lot of suspicion from the populace. But the truth is the locust threat is real.
What is worrying, however, is the low level of effectiveness of the methods and tools Uganda is using to control the locusts. For over two weeks Uganda has been using foot soldiers armed with hand held crop pumps to spray the locusts. To the pumps, they added drones which can only carry a few litres of the pesticide. They fall empty shortly and are returned to the ground to refuel.
A few days ago they added an army helicopter. Watching it on TV, you would see that it flies really low. In it are occupants carrying hand pumps and attempting to spray the pests, some of which are way above the helicopter. You would see that it is the locusts spraying the helicopter instead. The tools we are sing are really rudimentary. Without efficient aerial spay tools, one wonders what would happen if a major fire, like those we see in California and Australia, broke out in Uganda.
As more locusts, in their billions, are reported to be hatching in the Turkana region of Kenya, the threat for more destruction of crops is eminent. While Uganda and Kenya are desperately fighting the locusts, South Sudan, a potential victim of the pests, is just looking on.
The locusts’ invasion should serve as an eye opener for the eastern African countries to become more coordinated and equip themselves with tools necessary for disaster response.