PARIS, July 12 (UPI) -- France said this week it is mobilizing emergency efforts to stop locust swarms in Africa's Sahel from spreading farther into drought-stricken Niger and Mali.
The French Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it had released $1 million in emergency funding targeted to Niger -- the country currently most affected -- through a contribution to National Center for Locust Control in Mauritania.
Part of the funding will also go to help in a regional response to the locust swarms though an emergency fund set up by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
The latter effort will be aimed at surveying and controlling locust in Mali, where militant Islamists and Tuareg rebels have used the chaos created by the March overthrow of President Amadou Toumani Toure to seize control of the northern part of the country.
"Groups of desert locusts have been identified in recent weeks in the northern part of the Sahelian strip by the surveillance system set up by the countries of the region," the French ministry said in a statement. "These groups were notably found in northern Niger and Mali where insecurity could hamper the necessary survey and control operations."
The spread of this locust invasion to the southern part of the Sahel region, Paris said, "would have disastrous consequences, resulting in the loss of crops and the prospect of a worsening food crisis."
The ministry said the swift mobilization of donors, notably France and the EU, "has already made it possible to cover, within a few days, the immediate needs, estimated by the FAO to be $2.5 million."
"France will remain particularly attentive to developments in the situation in the weeks and months ahead."
The Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in the Western Region, an inter-regional FAO committee working with 11 countries in North Africa and the Sahel, has indicated it plans to double its efforts to stop the plague, France24 reported.
Swarms were first spotted in northern Niger in May, but efforts to keep them from reproducing were hampered by the fact that heavy rainfall earlier in the year had created ideal breeding conditions.
Despite the control efforts, swarms of the insects are moving south into Niger's agricultural breadbasket, where around 1.2 million acres of crops are at risk of being destroyed.
The unrest in northern Mali has meant FAO efforts to control the locust swarms from spreading there have been brought to a halt.
Swarms of immature locusts have invaded the Kidal and Aguelhok regions in northern Mali, sparking concerns the insects may devastate the country as it reels from drought, conflict, and the displacement of more than 360,000 refugees from the fighting, the United Nations has warned.
"It is difficult to know exactly how the situation is, as it is not safe to send scientific teams there," Manda Sadio Keita, an FAO program officer, told the U.N. news service IRIN. "We cannot assess and fight locusts anymore."
The government of Mali estimated in April almost 3 million people were living in conditions of food insecurity in drought-affected areas, while the FAO has since pegged the number at 1.6 million people throughout the regions of Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu and parts of Mopti, Voice of America reported.