26 June 2013

Locust Plague in Madagascar Continues Unaverted.

First off, Happy Independence Day! 53 Years since Madagascar achieved independence from France in 1960. To celebrate on this blog I want to call your attention to an underreported and critically underfunded crisis that is happening here right now.

I'd always imagined a locust plague, have never witnessed one, to be a huge cloud of millions of locusts that fly through an area eating their way before moving on and soon dying. Crop lost but that's it. Unfortunately, that isn't how these things work at all. Well, you can get the cloud, and it could be up to a hundred miles long, but if the plague isn't fought, if the locusts aren't stopped, they just keep breeding and multiplying and each year the plague continues. It doesn't just end.

Madagascar has been swarmed with locusts since early this year. In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN has been issuing warnings since August 2012. They have been trying to raise funds to be able to monitor and eradicate the insects but unfortunately got nowhere near the $11 million they required then.

The swarm has now grown to plague proportions.  According to a recent FAO mission "in parts of the country rice and maize losses due to the locusts vary from 40 to 70 percent of the crop, with 100 percent losses on certain plots." About two thirds of the island is affected, over half its population, and mostly poor subsistence farmers who have no fallback form the loss of their rice harvest. Given a still intransigent strongman in power and political and economic isolation, this problem can't be solved with market substitutes either.

At least today I can say that  Bloomberg and some other international media are finally picking up the story, because the window on keeping this from being a protracted, multi-year devastating tragedy beyond what it already is is closing. "“If we don’t act now, the plague could last years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars,” FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said. “This could very well be a last window of opportunity to avert an extended crisis.”"

Is the international community going to come to the aid of those in need here, or just go on pretending Madagascar is an uninhabited island filled with talking cartoon animals?