As a literal plague swarms the globe, a biblical one is threatening millions in Africa.
Those in parts of the continent are struggling to battle billions of desert locusts as they simultaneously try to avoid putting themselves in harm’s way amid the coronavirus pandemic, The Associated Press reported Friday.
The locusts began tormenting parts of Africa earlier this year, weeks ahead of coronavirus being dubbed a pandemic, and the insects’ path of destruction has been labeled an “unprecedented threat” to food security and livelihoods by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
For some nations, the outbreak earlier this year was the biggest in 70 years. FAO has said this current one is about 20 times bigger.
“The current situation in East Africa remains extremely alarming as … an increasing number of new swarms are forming in Kenya, southern Ethiopia, and Somalia,” said a new FAO assessment, according to AP.
In those nations, fears of hunger are more potent, given that locusts can destroy the standby plant known as cassava.
And if breeding conditions are favorable through next month, FAO says there could be new swarms in June and July, overlapping with the beginning of the harvest season.
To date, the agency has $111 million to help combat the swarms before additional rainfall leads to an increase in the numbers of locusts.
“Young adults” are included in these new swarms and they have bigger appetites than elder locusts, Kenneth Mwangi, a satellite information analyst at Climate Prediction and Application Center in Nairobi, told AP.
In Uganda, locusts are what “everyone is talking about” not the virus, one farmer, Yoweri Aboket, told AP News.
“Once they land in your garden they do total destruction. Some people will even tell you that the locusts are more destructive than the coronavirus,” Aboket explained, noting that some don’t think the virus will touch their country.
That said, the travel restrictions popping up worldwide as an attempt to stymie the spread of coronavirus, have made it more difficult for pesticides to be delivered to people across borders.
And for the field officers who can’t conduct their verification work, Mwangi said it becomes difficult for the center to update regional prediction models.
In a disturbing development, swarms are also popping up in places they hadn’t been previously. Djibouti, Congo, Eritrea, and Tanzania have also seen locusts.