THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
A supercomputer is boosting efforts in East Africa to control locust outbreaks that raise what the United Nations food agency calls “an unprecedented threat” to the region’s food security.
The computer, a donation from the United Kingdom, uses satellite data to track locust swarms and predict their next destination. Quickly sharing the locusts’ movements with regional authorities is key to controlling the outbreak because even a small swarm of locusts in a single day can move nearly 100 miles and consume an amount of crops that would otherwise feed 35,000 people.
Based in a regional climate center in Kenya, where the insects have been particularly destructive, the supercomputer system “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 United Kingdom’s Department for International Development said.
Kenya, Somalia and Uganda have been battling the worst locust outbreak that parts of East Africa have seen in 70 years. Swarms also have been sighted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, South Sudan and Tanzania.
The threat from the locusts “remains extremely alarming” in the Horn of Africa, where “widespread breeding is in progress and new swarms are starting to form, representing an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods at the beginning of the upcoming cropping season,” according to a warning from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
Aerial spraying is generally considered the only effective control method. In Uganda, Soldiers have been battling swarms using hand-held spray pumps because of difficulties in getting aircraft and the recommended pesticide.
Officials in Nairobi said the technology will boost their efforts in tracking locust swarms.
“The forecast is quite useful because it helps them to focus their efforts in the areas that are most likely to be affected by the desert locust in the coming, say, 10 days,” said Abubakr Salih Babiker, a climate scientist at Nairobi’s regional climate center. “In this way they are more efficient in allocating their resources, allocating the financial capacity to control the desert locust. It is a very innovative and new way of using technology to solve a real-life problem like the desert locust.”
Kenneth Mwangi, a satellite information analyst at the center, said the team can run better prediction models in an outbreak where the spread of locusts “has been very rapid.”