A UK-funded supercomputer in East Africa is helping to track the movements of devastating locust swarms that have brought 25 million people to the brink of starvation, the government said today, pointing to a Department for International Development’s (DfID)-funded £35 million project in Kenya.
The supercomputer is located in a regional climate centre in the east African nation. Using satellite data it is helping to track locust swarms which can travel nearly 100 miles within a day. A single swarm can quickly devastate crops and consume food that would provide sustenance to more than 35,000 people.
Data from the system is being used to help inform early warning systems, it added, as well as inform pesticide spraying designed to slow the passage of the pests.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s “Locust Watch” notes that in Kenya swarms “continue to be reported in northern and central areas where they are mostly mature and have laid eggs. Hatching is causing an increasing number of hopper bands to form with new swarm formation expected in the coming weeks.
“Mature swarms are also present along the shores of Lake Turkana.”
The FAO is also tracking swarms in Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf.
The computer system – which is supported by the UK Met Office – is also used to create extensive weather forecasts. These forecasts help to predict high winds, humidity and rainfall in the region. Understanding these factors helps to anticipate the migration patterns of the locust as they tend to move into areas that have rapid vegetation growth following drought or extreme weather patterns.
International development secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan commented: “The devastating locust outbreak in East Africa has paralysed communities that are already facing the daily threat of starvation. Through UK aid and British expertise, we are helping to track, stop and kill dangerous swarms of locusts to help millions of people fighting for survival… With rising temperatures and increasing cyclones driving these infestations, Britain is stepping up to help vulnerable communities.”
The locust outbreak is the worst to hit East Africa in 70 years and is compounding an ongoing humanitarian crisis which has been driven by extreme weather and longer rainy seasons. Addressing the locust plague, the UN’s Secretary General, António Guterres commented to media last month that: “There is a link between climate change and the unprecedented locust crisis plaguing Ethiopia and East Africa. Warmer seas mean more cyclones generating the perfect breeding ground for locusts. Today the swarms are as big as major cities and it is getting worse by the day.”
The UK has committed to help the region with further aid and has already helped to protect 73,000 hectares of farming land across East Africa with the provision of 290,000 litres of pesticides. The supercomputer being used to track the locust swarms is provided as part of the Department for International Development’s Weather and Climate Information Services for Africa programme (WISER).
This initiative will run until 2021 at a cost of £35 million.