In a nightmarish new scenario called ‘Locust-19’, East Africa prepares for a devastating flock of billions of locusts made even worse by the corona virus pandemic.
The aggressive locusts destroyed crops in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan in January and February, laying eggs along the way.
Now a second wave of grasshoppers is moving through the region and could do even more damage thanks to Covid-19.
The pandemic has increased financial pressures on these countries and has slowed imports of essential grasshopper control tools, such as pesticides and spray equipment.
Lockdown travel restrictions have also locked people up in their own areas, meaning they can’t get away from the swarms – and help from better-equipped countries can’t cross the border to provide aid.
Some international experts have defied the travel ban to support local eradication efforts, such as aerial spraying.
The weather conditions also contributed to the disaster. Heavy rains last month created the perfect environment as the desert grasshopper can only lay their eggs in damp sand. After a storm, a single square meter of soil can hold up to 1,000 eggs.
This second wave of grasshoppers is expected to be up to 20 times larger than the swarm earlier in the year.
When the babies hatch, their bodies transform in preparation to swarm and travel to areas of crops to decimate – they grow bulkier and change color from brown to yellow and black. Their striking color does not make them vulnerable to predators because they travel in such huge packages that they are safe.
The grasshoppers can travel 90 miles in one day, which is terrifying news for farmers who don’t have enough equipment to stave off a swarm, and for the millions of people who suffer starvation and hunger when the crops are ruined.
The pests are noticeable at the beginning of the May planting season, the worst time possible because it means farmers will have to delay planting seeds or give the locusts the risk of eating the seedlings before they can grow.
Grasshoppers are already eating crops in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia and are quickly migrating to Uganda and South Sudan.
The United Nations has called the situation “extremely alarming” because it estimates that approximately one million people have already starved to death from the infection.
If not swiftly brought under control, the swarm could be 400 times the size by June, which would destroy mid-year harvests.
“It appears that those escaping Covid-19 will soon encounter Locust-19,” Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank, wrote in an opinion for African Business magazine.
‘In East Africa alone, the number of hungry people could reach 30 million.
“The last thing Africa needs now as we fight the Covid-19 pandemic is a hunger pandemic.”