Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Swarms of locusts are destroying large swaths of pastures and crops in East Africa in the worst invasion of the pests in some seven decades, food security agencies warn.
The desert locust swarms have overwhelmed countries in the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, bringing uncertainty to a region in which millions of people already face food scarcity.
The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization warned the threat could spill over into other East African countries.
The desert locust is particularly destructive because it can jump farther than other types of locusts, traveling dozens of miles each day. The insect also breeds relatively fast--females can lay egg pods with up to 100 eggs, which take about two weeks to hatch.
Experts warn that left unchecked, the number of desert locusts could grow by 500 times by June.
The FAO said the current outbreak of locusts is the worst most of East Africa has experienced in 25 years. In Kenya, where the swarming is at its height, it's the worst situation in seven decades.
"This has become a situation of international dimensions that threatens the food security of the entire subregion. FAO is activating fast-track mechanisms that will allow us to move swiftly to support governments in mounting a collective campaign to deal with this crisis," FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said Monday.
Qu called on additional financial support from the international community to provide more tools and resources to battle the swarms. The FAO is seeking $70 million.
The agency said swarms are particularly bad this year due to recent weather events.
The Food Security and Nutrition Working Group said more than 19 million people in East Africa face a high degree of food insecurity. The agency warned that figure could rise if the locust swarms are left unchecked.
"We must act immediately and at scale to combat and contain this invasion.," said David Phiri, FAO subregional coordinator for Eastern Africa. "As the rains start in March there will be a new wave of locust breeding. Now is therefore the best time to control the swarms and safeguard people's livelihoods and food security, and avert further worsening of the food crisis."