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Swarms of hungry locusts bring potential for famine during coronavirus

Coronavirus outbreak: East Africa hit by second locust invasion as it battles COVID-19
WATCH: Efforts to contain an upsurge of swarming locusts in East Africa continue despite restrictions on movement and equipment imposed by governments as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the coronavirus pandemic, there’s another plague happening: swarms of hungry locusts.

The species of grasshopper have a big appetite for teff, wheat and sorghum, Vox reports, and as they sweep across parts of Africa, South Asia and the Middle East, they’re threatening famine while these areas continue to fight against the highly contagious respiratory virus.

READ MORE: ‘They have eaten everything' — Locust swarms in Africa are worst in decades

The threat is so serious that the World Bank has approved a record-breaking $500 million in grants and low-interest loans to battle the swarms. According to Reuters, the hardest-hit countries — Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda — will receive $160 million right away.

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Photos show skylines and fields full of clouds of the flying locusts. In some images, children can be seen swatting at them. In another, officials spray insecticide on plants in hopes of protecting them from being eaten.

A photo taken with a mobile phone on Feb. 15, 2020 shows Pakistani children trying to avoid locusts swarming in Okara district in eastern Pakistan’s Punjab province. Locust attacks on crops incurred heavy financial losses to farmers in some areas of the country.
A photo taken with a mobile phone on Feb. 15, 2020 shows Pakistani children trying to avoid locusts swarming in Okara district in eastern Pakistan’s Punjab province. Locust attacks on crops incurred heavy financial losses to farmers in some areas of the country. Getty Images
Swarms of locusts are seen over the residential areas in the city of Hyderabad, in southern Sindh province, Pakistan on May 8, 2020.
Swarms of locusts are seen over the residential areas in the city of Hyderabad, in southern Sindh province, Pakistan on May 8, 2020. Getty Images
A soldier of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces sprays plants where the locust swarms will land with insecticides with the hopes of killing the locusts in Otuke on Feb. 17, 2020.
A soldier of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces sprays plants where the locust swarms will land with insecticides with the hopes of killing the locusts in Otuke on Feb. 17, 2020. Getty Images

“The Horn of Africa finds itself at the epicentre of the worst locust outbreak we have seen in a generation, most probably in more than a generation,” senior World Bank official Holger Kray told Reuters, noting the coronavirus pandemic is making the crisis worse.

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READ MORE: Crews use spray planes to combat massive locust swarms in East Africa

The World Bank estimates that the Horn of Africa region could suffer up to $8.5 billion in lost crops and livestock production by the end of the year.

Even with measures in place, the losses could still be as high as $2.5 billion, Reuters says.

In Kenya, the locusts are eating in one day the amount of food consumed by all Kenyans in two days, Kray said.

A swarm of desert locusts invade parts of Mwingi town in Kitui County, Kenya, Feb. 20, 2020.
A swarm of desert locusts invade parts of Mwingi town in Kitui County, Kenya, Feb. 20, 2020. Getty Images
Swarms of locusts land and feed on shea trees, which are a big source of food and income for local farmers, in Otuke on Feb. 17, 2020.
Swarms of locusts land and feed on shea trees, which are a big source of food and income for local farmers, in Otuke on Feb. 17, 2020. Getty Images
A photo taken on Feb. 4, 2020 shows a cloud of locusts flying in Mwingi North, Kenya.
A photo taken on Feb. 4, 2020 shows a cloud of locusts flying in Mwingi North, Kenya. Getty Images

Because the pandemic is affecting the supply chain, it’s been harder for nations to protect themselves from the swarms, Business Insider reports.

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“The biggest challenge we are facing at the moment is the supply of pesticides, and we have delays because global air freight has been reduced significantly,” Cyril Ferrand, a team leader for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, said in a press release.

Kenya grapples with worst locust threat in 70 years
Kenya grapples with worst locust threat in 70 years

In one day, locusts can eat the same amount as 35,000 people. They are able to travel up to 150 kilometres in a day in groups as large as 250 kilometres wide.

— With files from Reuters

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

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meaghan.wray@globalnews.ca