Plea for help as locusts invade Puntland

Authorities in Somalia's self-declared autonomous region of Puntland in the northeast have appealed for international aid following the loss of thousands of hectares of pasture and farmland to a locust infestation.

"We issued an appeal for help on 23 September; Puntland alone cannot deal with this," Hassan Arab, the deputy minister of rangeland and forestry, told IRIN on 25 September.

He said those affected by the swarms needed urgent assistance. "We hope the response will be quick and positive", he said, adding: "These swarms are bigger and more destructive than the ones we had in June."

Muse Gelle, the governor of Bari region, said many farmers had lost all their crops. "We are also losing a lot of pasture land, which is having a devastating effect on the nomads."

According to a local journalist, the infestation had also affected thousands of nomads and small-scale farmers. "It is not only destroying the farms but anything green."

Parts of Puntland suffered from locust infestations in June. Arab said the locusts had, this time, spread to a wider area than in June.

"We are getting reports that they have moved to parts of Nugal and Sool [disputed region]," he said.

The worst affected areas were Iskushuban, Qardo, Qandala and parts of eastern Sanag [disputed region], according to Arab.

''These swarms are bigger and more destructive than the ones we had in June''

Sool and Sanag are claimed by both Puntland and neighbouring Somaliland.

Andrew Harberd, the emergency coordinator for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Somalia, said there had been reports of locusts in the area of Iskushuban town on 16 September and of a “huge swarm of locust clouding the skies of Qardo town” on 23 September.

"The locust swarms being observed are either local infestations, or more probably have originated from Yemen, where desert locust bred in the interior during April," he said.