Coronavirus (COVID-19) is making it harder to eradicate gigantic locust swarms that are wreaking havoc in East Africa.

The outbreak of locusts, which can be carried in part by the wind, has overwhelmed local officials in multiple countries — including Somaliland, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda, and the Congo.

The COVID-19 crisis, which is straining public health systems and resources in multiple countries, has added a new layer of complication to the battle against the locusts.


“Obviously, the challenge for the international community will be to address the humanitarian needs of multiple layers of need and competing crises all over the globe,” Cyril Ferrand, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s East Africa resilience team leader, told Earther.

COVID-19 Making It Harder To Battle Locust Swarms In Africa
A farmer’s daughter waves her shawl in the air to try to chase away swarms of desert locusts from her crops, in Katitika village, Kitui County, Kenya. AP

As new cases of coronavirus have been seen in much of East Africa this month, the pandemic also is slowing the delivery of pesticides that can kill the insects.

“That’s the danger of the current situation where we have huge demands for assistance, combined with the fact that with covid-19, even the northern hemisphere is quite affected economically,” Ferrand explained.

COVID-19 Making It Harder To Battle Locust Swarms In Africa
A vehicle mounted with an Ultra-Low Volume (ULV) sprayer filled with bio-pesticide sprays one of the breeding grounds for the desert locusts in Geerisa town, Lughaya District in Somaliland. EPA

The locust swarms can completely decimate crops and devastate pasture for animals. This is particularly challenging in a region where agriculture accounts for major portion of economic activity.

Ferrand told Earther that disruption from COVID-19 has also caused shipping delays of up to 10 days for items like motorized sprayers and pesticides.

“Along with climate shocks, conflict, and acute food insecurity, the East Africa region now faces a hunger threat from Desert Locust. This is a scourge of biblical proportions,” the FAO said.

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