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The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction named the locust problems in Eastern Africa, one of the most under-reported disasters of 2020. Undoubtedly exacerbated by climate change and ongoing drought conditions in many parts of Eastern Africa, huge locust swarms continue to threaten crops, agriculture and food supplies across Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya in particular.

Priority Worldwide responded to a call from the US Agency of International Development (USAID) to provide aerial spraying aircraft assets in Ethiopia in support of United Nations Food & Agriculture Office (FAO) missions.

We were able to source, provide and configure two aircraft for the needs of this mission – One fixed wing Air Tractor AT602 for aerial spraying, and one rotary wing Airbus Helicopter AS350B3 for aerial spray and reconnaissance activities. The special spraying equipment for the helicopter was sourced from the USA and Priority’s US office also arranged the export clearance and air freight to Kenya, to ensure that the helicopter would be fitted in the fastest time possible.

Both aircraft positioned from Kenya to Ethiopia in November/December 2020 to begin two-month duration flying contracts in Eastern Ethiopia. Priority’s project management team undertook the necessary COVID-19 protocols and flew from North America to Ethiopia to assist in the start-up of the flying. This involved several international and domestic flights in Ethiopia before getting picked up by a helicopter for the final leg into Kebredehar, near the Somali border.

Some of the challenges out team found in setting up a turn-key program in this part of Ethiopia included finding suitable accommodation, transport, and catering for aircraft crews, and the logistical issues of moving fuel supplies and chemical dispersant supplies inland to the forward base.

The AS350B3 helicopter has been used extensively to scout and locate locust swarms, as well as returning to treat those areas once spotted. The AT602 aircraft, with its increased hectare spraying efficiency, has been used widely to spray co-ordinates and areas of the country know to contain locust swarms.

There is a huge ongoing intelligence co-ordination between the Ethiopian government, local FAO officials and inhabitants of the Eastern region of Ethiopia in regard to sighting locust swarms and it has been immensely rewarding to have learnt about this under-reported crisis.

ER@priorityworldwide.com (Humanitarian and Emergency Response Team)