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'Extremely Alarming' Locust Plague Swarms The Worst In Decades, Linked To Climate Change

Five African countries are under extreme warnings for locust plagues, with the United Nations saying the "unprecedented" infestation could devastate food and lives for months to come.

Swarms of locusts, some 60 kilometres long, have descended on parts of east Africa in recent weeks. Kenya and Ethiopia are the worst hit countries, but the U.N. has sounded the alarm for a dozen more countries in Africa, the Middle East, and as far east as India, with fears the infestation could stretch and grow for months.

Roughly the length of a finger, the insects fly together by the millions and are devouring crops and forcing people in some areas to bodily wade through them. Unusual climate conditions are partly to blame.

A farmer walks through swarms of desert locusts feeding on her crops, in Katitika village, Kenya, on January 24. Image: AAP

The country's entire north-east is classified as 'infested'. The plagues came south, across the border from Somalia, spreading both west and north toward Ethiopia, South Sudan and Uganda.

One swarm measured 60 kilometres long by 40 kilometres wide in Kenya, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development said in a statement last week.

These are said to be the worst plagues in decades.

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Worst Locust Plague In Decades Hits Africa, Climate Blamed

Swarms of desert locusts up to 60km long are damaging crops in east Africa, in the worst outbreak of the creatures in more than two decades.

"A typical desert locust swarm can contain up to 150 million locusts per square kilometre," it said.

"Swarms migrate with the wind and can cover 100 to 150km in a day. An average swarm can destroy as much food crops in a day as is sufficient to feed 2500 people."

A man drives through a desert locust swarm in Lekiji, Kenya. Image: AAP

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) issued an extraordinary statement on Tuesday, issuing urgent warnings for five countries in the Horn of Africa, and advising that locust breeding could see the infestation spread to another eight nations.

"The current Desert Locust situation remains extremely alarming and represents an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods in the Horn of Africa," the FAO said.

"This will be further exacerbated by new breeding that has commenced, which will cause more locust infestations."

Swarms of desert locusts fly above Katitika village. Image: AAP

The most dire warnings remain for Kenya and Ethiopia, where the outbreak began. The FAO warned of an "invasion" which may not subside for some time.

"Some swarms have started to lay eggs that will hatch in early February and new swarms could start to form by early April in northern counties," the FAO said.

"Aerial and ground control operations are in progress but need upscaling."

The U.N. warned of swarms growing in Somalia and Ethiopia, while swarms "could appear at any time" in South Sudan and Uganda.

A locust spread map, issued by the UN FAO. Image: FAO

Locust swarms are also developing in Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Each of these countries have had swarms reported, or are already taking action to combat the plagues.

The FAO also warned swarms may be forming in Iran, and that India and Pakistan are already carrying out control operations on their borders.

A farmer runs through a swarm near Enziu, Kenya. Image: AAP

The U.N. said in December there was danger to crops in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, India and Pakistan.

Countries like Sudan, Eritrea, Iran and Oman were under 'caution' warnings for crop damage.