Desert locusts on a tree in Nanyuki, Kenya, February 21 2020. Picture: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER
Desert locusts on a tree in Nanyuki, Kenya, February 21 2020. Picture: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER

Washington — The World Bank approved $500m to help fight the worst desert-locust invasion in decades that is threatening food security in parts of Africa and the Middle East.

Countries including Ethiopia Kenya, Uganda, Somalia and Yemen face a second wave of locust swarms from June. Failure to combat the pests in the Horn of Africa and Yemen could result in crop and livestock losses of as much as $8.5bn by year-end, according to the World Bank. The lender estimates the intervention could limit the damage to $2.5bn.

Anxiety over the locust swarms, able to quickly consume square kilometres of crop, grew as the coronavirus pandemic emerged and decimated economies, further stretching governments.

“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,” World Bank President David Malpass said in a statement Thursday.

More than 22.5-million people are already facing hunger in Eastern Africa, according to the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs. A second wave of the locust swarms —  expected in June when farmers in the region prepare to harvest their crops — could worsen food insecurity and put more people at the risk of losing their livelihoods, the Food and Agriculture Organisation warned last week.

Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Djibouti will access a total of $160m in the first phase of the so-called emergency locust-response programme from the International Development Association, the World Bank’s concessional lending arm for poor countries. The funds will help curb the locusts invasion, provide farm inputs and other forms of relief to the most affected and improve preparedness to respond in future, according to the lender.

Unusual weather patterns, which boosted vegetation over parts of the Horn of Africa and the Arab peninsula from in 2019, saw the insects fly southwards, creating an unprecedented threat to food security.

Bloomberg