Image: Crop-eating caterpillar
Liberia's president has declared a state of emergency over an invasion of crop-eating caterpillars.
updated 1/28/2009 4:13:48 PM ET 2009-01-28T21:13:48

A caterpillar plague in Liberia is spreading, with millions of the inch-long pests now infesting more than 100 villages in the West African nation, the U.N. said Wednesday.

U.N. Food and Agriculture Representative Winfred Hammond told The Associated Press the so-called "army worms" were also continuing their invasion of neighboring Guinea, where he said caterpillars have traveled about 15 miles from the border.

"Definitely we have a crisis on our hands," Hammond said.

On Monday, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared a state of emergency in the affected region. Hammond said the U.N. estimated around 400,000 people in 103 villages had been affected so far.

Also Wednesday, Liberia dispatched two international pest-control experts to the worst-affected areas in a bid to assess the damage and help stop it. The two plant protection experts from the governments of Ghana and Sierra Leone will be in Liberia for two weeks.

The caterpillars are clogging wells with excrement, eating vital crops including banana, plantain, coffee and cocoa and forcing villagers from their farms.

The outbreak in Liberia, which is still recovering from years of civil war, has been blamed on last year's unusually long rainy season.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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