Food Security, Health & Environment at Risk As Pest Outbreak Looms in West Africa
Nairobi, 23 January - The spectre of a food crisis and an environmental emergency is looming in West Africa as tens of millions of caterpillars advance through villages in northern Liberia, destroying crops and sending terrified villagers fleeing from their homes.
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has announced that many wells and waterways in several northern Liberia villages are now unfit for human consumption because of the huge volume of feces dropped by the caterpillars.
The plague is Liberia's worst in 30 years and the situation has been described as a national emergency.
The FAO has warned that unless the invasion is quickly contained, it is likely to escalate into a regional crisis involving neighbouring Guinea, Sierra Leone and Cöte d'Ivoire. Hordes of the caterpillars are said to be already advancing across the border with Guinea.
The caterpillars are suspected to be African armyworms (Spodoptera exempta).
According to UNEP experts, African armyworms were responsible for destroying over 30,000 hectares of maize around the Mount Kenya region in 2008.
The last African armyworm outbreak in West Africa occurred in Ghana in 2006.
The caterpillar outbreak is a threat to health and environmental sustainability, both of which are among the eight UN Millennium Development Goals.
In February, the United Nations Environment Programme will release a report on food security as part of its annual Governing Council meeting in Nairobi.