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Children in west Africa forced to eat locusts, World Vision says

Locusts are swarming across the continent's northwest in plague proportions, aided by drought and military conflict in Libya and Algeria.

mali 6 10 2012Enlarge
A young refugee from northern Mali looks out from her tent inside the UNHCR Mangaize refugee camp, 100 miles north of Niamey, on June 2, 2012. (AFP/Getty Images)

Children in famine hit west Africa are eating locusts to survive as a food crisis worsened, World Vision has said.

In a news release, the humanitarian agency said the crop-destroying insects were already near the Algeria-Libya border and threatening to destroy remaining crops in the drought-stricken region.

In its own news release, the UN warned that croplands in Niger and Mali were at imminent risk from Desert Locust swarms moving southward from Algeria and Libya.

Locust had been sighted in northern Mali, already hard-hit by conflict and food insecurity, Voice of America reported.

"How many locusts there are and how far they move will depend on two major factors — the effectiveness of current control efforts in Algeria and Libya and upcoming rainfall in the Sahel of West Africa," the UN release quoted Senior Locust Forecasting Officer with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Keith Cressman as saying.

He said Algeria and Libya would have had been able to prevent the southward movement of locusts, were it not for insecurity along both sides of the border caused by armed groups including Al Qaeda's north African wing (AQMI).

The proliferation of arms after the uprising in Libya, when led to Muammar Gaddafi's ouster, had further complicated the issue.

More from GlobalPost: Locusts from Libya threaten Mali and Niger

"This means that in the case of Niger, the [response] teams in the north are going to be accompanied by the army to ensure their safety but in case of northern Mali, I don't think the teams would be able to access that area at all," Cressman told Reuters by phone from Rome.

Reuters cited the FAO as warning that about 18 million people across eight countries in West Africa were already facing a hunger crisis due to a combination of drought, high food prices and conflict in the Sahel region – a semi-arid belt of land south of the Sahara desert.

"This [locust] invasion from Algeria and Libya is worrying because it coincides with the planting of this season's crops in the Sahel where people are already vulnerable and they cannot take any other disruption of their planting cycle," Reuters quoted Cressman as saying. 

Equipment to control the swarms has been looted by armed groups who recently seized parts of northern Mali, VOA wrote, citing Oumar Traoré, head technician with Mali’s locust control center.

The center stored most of its equipment in a warehouse in the northern town of Gao.

Meanwhile, World Vision Australia spokeswoman Anthea Spinks told Australian Associated Press that: 

‘‘We’ve begun hearing reports of young children hunting and surviving off insects as food rations in their village or community run dry.

"These are heartbreaking stories of survival which highlight the plight of millions of children in west Africa."