East Africa fears ‘triple threat’ from coronavirus, floods and locusts

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Countries across East Africa and the Horn of Africa are witnessing a “triple threat” from overlapping disasters as the coronavirus, locusts and flooding inundate communities across the region.

The International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) said that widespread flooding across Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda has led to the displacement of more than 500,000 and killed nearly 300 people.

But the floods have also increased the potential spread of COVID-19 and slowed intervention operations against the most severe locust crisis in the region has seen in decades.

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“The ongoing flooding crisis is exacerbating other threats caused by COVID-19 and the invasion of locusts,” Dr. Simon Missiri, IFRC’s regional director for Africa, said Wednesday. “Travel and movement restrictions meant to slow down the spread of COVID-19 are hampering efforts to combat swarms of locusts that are ravaging crops.”

The floods have forced hundreds of thousands of people to seek temporary shelter, and people there are frequently unable to practice social distancing measures. Officials are worried there could be an increase in coronavirus cases in Africa.

“We are worried that the number of people who are hungry and sick will increase in the coming weeks as flooding and COVID-19 continue to severely affect the coping capacity of many families in the region,” Missiri said.

“Harsh weather conditions are having a multiplier effect on an already difficult situation, and this could potentially lead to worrying levels of food insecurity in the region.”

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Acute food insecurity is already affecting more than 20 million people in the Horn of Africa, and officials from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and worried that soon West Africa could be seeing swarms of locust.

400 hectares of land have been protected due to efforts by the FAO, according to Dominique Burgeon, FAO’s director of emergencies.

But the FAO has requested over $150 million for “rapid response and anticipatory action in 10 countries.”

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The World Bank on Thursday announced a $500 million program to help countries in the Middle East and Africa fight the locust swarms.

“Together, this food supply emergency combined with the pandemic and economic shutdown in advanced economies places some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people at even greater risk,” David Malpass, president of the World Bank Group, said in a Thursday statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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