Swarms of locusts in Ethiopia have damaged 200,000 hectares (half a million acres) of cropland and driven around a million people to require emergency food aid, the United Nations said Monday.
The findings from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which recently concluded a joint assessment with the Ethiopian government, come as the region is bracing for new swarms that could be even more destructive.
Billions of desert locusts, some in swarms the size of Moscow, have already chomped their way through much of East Africa, including Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Tanzania, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda.
Their breeding has been spurred by one of the wettest rainy seasons in the region in four decades.
In Ethiopia, the locusts have caused widespread losses of sorghum, wheat and maize, also known as corn, and vastly reduced the amount of available land for cattle grazing, FAO said.
Some 75 percent of Ethiopians requiring emergency food assistance live in the country’s Somali and Oromia regions.
FAO Ethiopia representative Fatouma Seid said farmer and pastoralists needed help in the form of agricultural inputs and cash transfers to get them through the emergency, which was being worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is critical to protect the livelihoods of the affected population especially now that the situation is compounded by the COVID-19 crisis,” Seid said, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Ethiopia has recorded just 74 cases of COVID-19, but testing has been limited and experts fear the country’s weak health system, like others in the region, could be quickly overwhelmed by an influx of cases.
The pandemic is also having a crippling economic effect in many countries, destroying jobs, dislocating trade systems and crimping supply lines through lockdowns and movement restrictions.
The locust situation, meanwhile, is likely to get even worse.
Last week, FAO warned a “massive increase” in locusts across the region would pose “an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods” by imperilling the upcoming planting and harvest seasons.