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Biblical Locust Plague Threatens Madagascar

Mar 26, 2013 12:55 PM EDT

A locust plague of biblical proportions threatens the livelihood of some 13 million people in Madagascar as the island nation pleas for international aid to help eradicate the plague, which is threatening the country's crop production and the food security of more than half the country's population.

An unchecked locust infestation can wipe out the food crops and livestock grazing lands that millions depend on for survival, according report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which states that more than $22 million will be needed by June to launch an massive-three year, $41.5 million locust-eradication campaign.

"We know from experience that this plague will require three years of anti-locust campaigns. We need funds now to procure supplies and to timely set-up the aerial survey and control operations," said Annie Monard, senior officer and coordinator of the FAO locust response, according to a U.N. report.

About half of Madagascar is currently infested with locust swarms; each swarm is made of billions of plant-devouring insects. A sizable swarm of adult migratory locusts can eat up to 100,000 metric tons of green vegetation each day. The FAO estimates that if no action is taken, two-thirds of the country will be overtaken by locusts by September of this year.

In November of 2012, Madagascar's Ministry of Agriculture declared a national disaster ahead of the deteriorating situation.

According to News Time Africa, the plague now threatens 60 percent of Madagascar's rice production; rice is the country's main staple food.

The heart of the plague lies in the country's southwestern region, a drought- and cyclone-prone area where some 80 percent of the people live on below $1 a day, the FAO stated.

Last month a cyclone flooded region's rice fields, causing significant crop damage as well as creating ideal breeding grounds for locusts.

Swarms of locusts occur regularly in Madagascar, but previous attempts to control the insects failed to quell locust populations.

"What started as an upsurge turned into a plague," the FAO stated.

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