UK funds supercomputer to combat Africa’s worst locust outbreak

UAE has stepped up efforts to protect farms

A swarm of the Red Locusts 20 kilometres north of the town of Sakaraha, south west Madagascar on April 27, 2013. According to studies, there are currently a hundred locust swarms similar to this one in this region totalling around 500 billion locusts, eating around 100,000 metric tons of vegetation per day. AFP PHOTO/BILAL TARABEY. (Photo by BILAL TARABEY / AFP)

A supercomputer funded by UK aid is helping countries in East Africa to tackle devastating locust outbreaks by tracking the insects’ movements around the continent.

It comes as UAE officials are stepping up efforts to safeguard farms against the threat of swarms of locusts which have descended on parts of Saudi Arabia and Yemen in recent weeks.

The computer based in Kenya uses data to predict where the locusts will move to and develop early warning systems so communities can prepare.

The UK is also giving aid to the UN to help stop the insects destroying the livelihoods of millions of people.

The supercomputer is being provided through the UK's Department for International Development’s (Dfid) Weather and Climate Information Services for Africa (WISER) programme, in collaboration with the Met Office and the Africa Climate Policy Centre.

The Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority has been exterminating insects found in Al Sila, an area of the emirate close to the border with Saudi Arabia, in recent weeks.

The outbreak in East Africa is one of the worst in 70 years and has been destroying people on the brink of starvation of much-needed food.

The supercomputer based in the regional climate centre in Kenya (ICPAC) uses satellite data to track dangerous locust swarms which in just one day can travel nearly 100 miles and consume the amount of crops that would otherwise feed 35,000 people.

The innovative technology – supported by UK aid and the UK Met Office – also produces extensive weather forecasts to predict the high winds, rainfall, and humidity that provide ideal breeding conditions for locusts so climate experts can predict their next destination.

The early warning systems will help charities and African Governments to take rapid action to protect vulnerable communities.

The UK is also providing £5 million to an emergency UN appeal to help vulnerable communities in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti and Tanzania use this data to prepare for the arrival of locusts.

This support will fund surveillance of the locusts and the spraying of aerial pesticides to kill the insects, protecting 78,000 hectares of land.

The locust infestation – driven by longer rainy seasons and extreme weather – has already destroyed hundreds of thousands of hectares of vegetation in East Africa.

International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “The devastating locust outbreak in East Africa has paralysed communities that are already facing the daily threat of starvation.

“Through UK aid and British expertise, we are helping to track, stop and kill dangerous swarms of locust to help millions of people fighting for survival.

“With rising temperatures and increasing cyclones driving these infestations, Britain is stepping up to help vulnerable communities prepare for and adapt to the catastrophic impacts of climate change.”

UK aid to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has already helped protect 73,000 hectares across East Africa, supplied almost 290,000 litres of pesticides and trained 600 people to carry out surveillance to stop the locust spread.

Millions of locusts have invaded farms and agricultural areas in Riyadh, Qassim, Hail and the Eastern Province in Saudi Arabia in recent few weeks.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation, a UN agency, have warned that, if unchecked, the locust population in the region could be 500 times greater by June.