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Locusts, Drought Leave Mauritania Needing Food - UN

Date: 18-Jan-05
Country: MAURITANIA

The West African country was by far the worst affected by last year's locust invasion in the semi-desert Sahel region south of the Sahara -- the most serious infestation in 15 years.

Huge swarms of the crop-devouring insects infested all of Mauritania's agricultural production zone, with the south of the country the hardest hit, the World Food Programme (WFP) said.

The locusts descended on the capital Nouakchott three times in as many months last year, eating everything green including the city's main soccer pitch and the president's gardens.

"A WFP vulnerability study shows that 60 percent of households in the agro-pastoral zone will not have enough to eat in the coming year, and the lean season during 2005 is expected to be harsher than usual," the agency said in a statement.

It said locusts had wiped out not only cereals but also pulses and other vegetables, while insufficient rainfall also hit production. Crop assessments indicated a food deficit of 187,000 tonnes for the country's 2.9 million people.

"Entire harvests, where the people have invested their money, time and toil for so long, are simply gone," said Sory Ouane, the WFP's representative in the country.

"The international community must respond if we are to avoid a humanitarian crisis in Mauritania," he said. The appeal for $30.8 million covered the 2005-07 period, the agency said.

While the locust invasion did not provoke the feared region-wide food crisis, with most West and Central African states suffering much less than initially forecast, the WFP said crop damage had also been severe in Niger and Mali.

Having munched their way across areas stretching thousands of kilometres (miles) eastwards from Africa's Atlantic Coast, the locusts late last year headed towards the Middle East.

But experts have warned that the insects have started a new breeding cycle and are likely to return to the Sahel this year, possibly in even greater numbers.

Locust swarms have been recently spotted in northern Guinea and in Guinea-Bissau.

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