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January 27, 2009

Liberia declares state of emergency over locust plague

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on January 26 declared a state of emergency in the west African country where thousands of people are affected by an invasion of crop-destroying insects.

"I am hereby declaring a state of emergency," Sirleaf said in a speech broadcast on television.

Declaring a state of emergency over the plague by the voracious caterpillars, known as army worms, will make it easier for the president to free up government money to fight the invasion but it is also a cry for attention. Monrovia has already said it does not have the means to spray the army worms with insecticide from planes and has asked the international community for help.

"Thousands of people have been affected by the invasion of millions of army worms in the centre of the country (...) I have mandated the minister of finance to mobilise all possible resources to enable us to curtail the situation," Sirleaf said.

Authorities say more than 53 towns and villages in Liberia have now been affected by the caterpillars which can lay waste to an entire crop in a matter of days. Monrovia has warned that tens of thousands of Liberians face hunger due to the insect invasion. Last week the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the invasion by tens of millions of army worms was a "national emergency" for Liberia that could spread across west Africa.

An FAO delegation currently in Liberia is due to visit other potentially affected countries January 27 to take samples of the insects to determine the best way to combat the plague. According to reports, the army worms have passed into neighbouring Guinea. Liberia's other neighbour, Sierra Leone, announced Monday it had started a massive drive sending chemicals and spraying personnel to the border districts to keep the invading insects at bay.


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