AP Explains: How climate change feeds Africa locust invasion

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In this photo taken Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, a Samburu man who works for a county disaster team identifying the location of the locusts, holds one on his hand near the village of Sissia, in Samburu county, Kenya. The most serious outbreak of desert locusts in 25 years is spreading across East Africa and posing an unprecedented threat to food security in some of the world's most vulnerable countries, authorities say, with unusual climate conditions partly to blame. (AP Photo/Patrick Ngugi)

JOHANNESBURG – Locusts by the millions are nibbling their way across a large part of Africa in the worst outbreak some places have seen in 70 years. Is this another effect of a changing climate? Yes, researchers say. An unprecedented food security crisis may be the result.

The locusts "reproduce rapidly and, if left unchecked, their current numbers could grow 500 times by June,” the United Nations says.

Here’s a look at what’s going on and where the voracious insects might be going next.

A LOCUST OUTBREAK? WHAT’S THAT LIKE?

The swarms of desert locusts hang like shimmering dark clouds on the horizon as they scour the countryside in what are already some of the world’s most vulnerable countries, including Somalia. Roughly the length of a finger, the whirring insects in huge numbers have destroyed hundreds of square kilometers (miles) of vegetation and forced people in some areas to bodily wade through them.

“A typical desert locust swarm can contain up to 150 million locusts per square kilometer,” the East African regional body, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, has said. “Swarms migrate with the wind and can cover 100 to 150 kilometers (62 to 93 miles) in a day. An average swarm can destroy as much food crops in a day as is sufficient to feed 2,500 people.”

Alarm and exasperation mix with curiosity as people try to shoo the locusts away by shouting, waving pieces of clothing or banging on sheets of corrugated metal. In rural Kenya, men dashed along a path waving leafy branches at the insects and laughing in astonishment.

“These things here, they came to us from Ethiopia and are destroying everything along the way including our farm,” said Esther Ndanu in the Kenyan village of Ngomeni. “We want the government to move very quickly to bring the plane to spray them with the medicine that can kill them, otherwise they will destroy everything.”