Locusts, COVID-19, flooding pose 'triple threat' in Africa


By Rodney Muhumuza, Associated Press

via WHP Local 21 News (PA) - May 21st 2020


KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Locusts, COVID-19 and deadly flooding pose a “triple threat” to millions of people across East Africa, officials warned Thursday, while the World Bank announced a $500 million program for countries affected by the historic desert locust swarms.


A new and larger generation of the voracious insects, numbering in the billions, is on the move in East Africa, where some countries haven't seen such an outbreak in 70 years. Climate change is in part to blame.


The added threat of COVID-19 imperils a region that already was home to about 20% of the world's population of food-insecure people, including millions in South Sudan and Somalia.


Yemen in the nearby Arabian Peninsula is also threatened, and United Nations officials warn that if locusts are not brought under control there, the conflict-hit country will remain a reservoir for further infestations in the region.


Lockdowns imposed for the COVID-19 pandemic have slowed efforts to combat the locusts, especially imports of the pesticides needed for aerial spraying that is called the only effective control.


“We’re not in a plague, but if there are good rains in the summer and unsuccessful control operations, we could be in a plague by the end of this year,” said Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.


Now there's a risk that the locusts could make their way in the coming months into West Africa's sprawling and arid Sahel region just south of the Sahara Desert, he said. Chad, Niger and Mauritania could be affected — another burden for a region under growing threat from extremist attacks.


The FAO is preparing to increase its appeal for aid to $310 million as the livelihoods of millions of people across Ethiopia, Kenya and elsewhere are at stake, including farmers and herders.


Already about 400,000 hectares of land have been protected from the locusts, or enough crops to feed about 5 million people, said Dominique Burgeon, FAO's director of emergencies, “but it is only one part of the equation.”


The number of locusts continues to grow despite the control efforts, and if that work is not sustained, the combined threat with COVID-10 and flooding “could have a catastrophic effect,” said FAO director-general Qu Dongyu.


The FAO in its latest assessment says the situation in parts of East Africa remains “extremely alarming” because new swarms will form from mid-June onward, coinciding with the start of the harvest season for many farmers...


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