Plague of locusts swarm Madagascar

04/15/2013 21:09

A locust invasion is threatening Madagascar's 22 million people.  Most inhabitants already live below the poverty line, and now the locusts are devouring large amounts of rice and corn, main staples in the East African island nation.

"If we don't react as planned -- and by June, actually -- there will be a famine," says Alexandre Huynh, who is with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization stationed in Madagascar. "All those people -- two thirds of the population -- will have big problems accessing food."

A tropical cyclone had crippled Madagascar's food supply in February. Fourteen-thousand acres of crops were flooded. To make matters worse, all that water created a perfect breeding environment for the swarming insects.

"We're really dealing with locusts that are growing, that are breeding, that are spreading, and that are flying over long distances," explains Princeton University's Iain Couzin, an expert on locust behavior.

So what needs to be done?

"There needs to be a multi-prong approach," says Couzin, "involving surveillance, and also application of insecticide."

All that takes money; the United Nations needs $41 million.

"If we cannot act immediately -- like within the next few months -- it's going to be incredibly expensive in terms of this massive famine," Couzin warns.

The locusts do more and more damage every day. In Madagascar, the hope now is to prevent the infestation that could tip millions from just barely getting by to starving. WTSP

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