Desert locusts have invaded six districts in Karamoja Sub-region and are advancing to other areas, government officials said last evening.
The insects that entered the country through Amudat District on Sunday afternoon have now spread to Moroto, Nabilatuk, Nakapiripirit, Napak and Abim districts.
" The swarm of locusts was reportedly seen at Alerek Hill in Labwor County of Abim District... Spray aircraft will arrive in Karamoja tomorrow [today]... Two international experts will join Ugandan experts in Karamoja tomorrow," a statement shared by Mr Martin Owor, the commissioner for disaster preparedness and management at the Office of the Prime Minister, read.
This came as government delivered 18,000 litres each of cypermethrin and Chlorpyrifos to the sub-region spray the locusts.
But experts doubted the effectiveness of the chemicals in killing locusts, saying they are meant to kill ordinary insects such as cockroaches and fleas.
An Internet search showed that both Cypermethrin and Chlorpyrifos are harmful to useful insects such as bees and are used for killing pests such as cockroaches, fleas, termites and other smaller insects, but are not effective in killing locusts. The chemicals can be harmful to human beings if exposed to large quantities.
The Desert Locust Control Organisation of East Africa (DLCO-EA) had recommended Fenitrothion chemical as more effective in combating the locust swarms. Mr Evarist Magara, the Uganda representative to DLCO-EA, said they had recommended Fenitrothion to government because its negative environmental impact is very low.
"Fenitrothion does not kill birds and animals, and it does not accumulate in environment," Mr Magara told Daily Monitor yesterday.
However, officials from the Agriculture ministry said the recommended chemical was out of stock and they had to procure what was available.
Mr Stephen Byantwale, the commissioner for crop protection, told Daily Monitor by telephone yesterday that government resorted to using available pesticides to contain the locusts.
"On the ground, those we find very young, we have sent cypermethrin 5 per cent, then for the mature ones we have sent Chlorpyrifos," the commissioner said.
He said government is struggling to get Fenitrothion, which is not available on the local market. "We have not finalised who the final suppliers will be.
There are challenges of those chemicals on the ground and everyone is spraying," Mr Byantwale said. "Kenya has enough stock of Fenitrothion and if we fail to get it on the market, we shall ask Kenya government to supply us and we pay them. This is a battle we must fight and win," he added.
Mr Byantwale said government is also struggling to get aircrafts for aerial spraying. He said two ministers had gone to Kenya to negotiate for two aircrafts to do the work. He said in the meantime, the motorised vehicle sprays and foot troops will be spraying the chemicals sent to the affected area.
"We are waiting for a feedback from our team in Nairobi. Mr Musa Ecweru [State minister for Disaster Preparedness) and Lt Col (Rtd) Bright Rwamirama [State minister for Veteran Affairs] are talking with the Kenyan government. We hope by today [yesterday] evening, they will have finalised," he said.
The commissioner also said government will start with a 10 litre-capacity drone donated by a company called Kingdom Rice Ltd to do the aerial spraying as plans to acquire the planes continue. Mr Byantwale said all the districts neighbouring Karamoja are at risk of the locust invasion.
"We are sensitising all those people in those areas of Teso, Lango, Acholi and West Nile because they are within the reach of the locusts. South Sudan may also be a target because they are not far," he said.
"We already have a team on the ground and we are dispatching another team tomorrow from Kampala," he added.
About the chemicals
According to information from Journal of Pesticides and US National Library of Medicine, National Centre for Biotechnology Information, both Cypermethrin and Chlorpyrifos are harmful to human beings when exposed in large quantities.
The Journal of Pesticides says Cypermethrin is a synthetic pyrethroid insecticide used to kill insects on cotton and lettuce, and to kill cockroaches, fleas, and termites in houses and other buildings.
The journal says it is toxic to the nervous system. Symptoms of exposure include dizziness, nausea, headaches, and seizures. It also suppresses the immune system, inhibiting the formation of antibodies to disease-producing microbes.
It says Cypermethrin is classified as a possible human carcinogen because it causes an increase in the frequency of lung tumors in female mice. Among structural pest control operators in California, cypermethrin is the fourth most common cause of pesticide-related illness. After household treatments, it persists in the air and on walls and furniture for about three months.
Cypermethrin is toxic to bees, other beneficial insects, earthworms. Fish, and shrimp. Birds in cypermethrin-treated areas are less successful at raising nestlings because their insect food sources are killed.
According to US National Library of Medicine, Chlorpyrifos is used to control cockroaches, fleas, and termites; it is also used in some pet flea and tick collars. On the farm, it is used to control ticks on cattle and as a spray to control crop pests.
A study of the effects of Chlorpyrifos on humans showed that people exposed to high levels of the chemical over time have autoimmune antibodies that are common in people with autoimmune disorders.
There is a strong correlation to chronic illness associated with autoimmune disorders after exposure to Chlorpyrifos.
Among 50 farm pesticides studied, Chlorpyrifos was one of two found to be associated with higher risks of lung cancer among frequent pesticide applicators than among infrequent or non-users.
Pesticide applicators as a whole were found to have a 50 per cent lower cancer risk than the general public, which is attributable to the nearly 50 per cent lower smoking rate found among farm workers.
On the otherhand, Fenitrothion is an insecticide, acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. It is used in agriculture, horticulture, forestry and public health against chewing and sucking insects on rice, cereals, fruits, vegetables, stored grains and cotton, among others, according to WHO. It is also used to spray mosquitoes and cockroaches in public health use.