COVID-19, desert locusts, torrential rains and floods… To which of this “triple threat” should East Africa pay attention?
While the rains come with the planting season throughout an entire region where they have imposed several restrictions on the coronavirus, this question – albeit somewhat rhetorical – is on the minds of many people.
On April 22, journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo tweeted this very specific controversial question:
– Charles Onyango-Obbo (@cobbovias torrenciales3) April 22, 2020
COVID-19 in Africa, torrential rains and deadly floods, climate change, along with locusts in East Africa… If we had to counter some, what would it be? What would be the least lethal? East African Dilemma.
Torrential rain / climate change 22%
Of 779 respondents, 45% said that if they had to choose a crisis to counter, it would be the coronavirus crisis. The number of cases has risen across the continent during April. Many lives have undergone drastic changes as a result of preventive measures, such as confinements and travel bans, that have basically stopped economies and markets.
However, the locust plague in the Horn of Africa and East Africa posed a threat to food security long before the world turned its attention to the coronavirus. Indeed, 33% of respondents said that locusts are potentially more deadly than viruses or floods. On the other hand, 22% believed that torrential rains and floods (mainly due to the climate change that the continent is undergoing) are a threat to life in East Africa. Terrible floods have wiped out crops, causing food prices to rise and people struggling to survive from Somalia to South Sudan and to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
This is how this triple crisis – viruses, locusts and floods – are not disconnected. Certainly each is inextricably connected to the other.
Second wave of lobsters
Lobsters – which today mainly affect the Central Province of Kenya, southern Ethiopia and Somalia – are the result of “an unusual humid climate, in the last 18 months, that has generated the perfect conditions for their reproduction”, according to the Bloomberg report.
In January 2020, the largest locust infestation of the past 70 years was recorded in several East African countries. That plague destroyed more than 25 million hectares of crops. Now the second wave of locust hatching, descended from the first, could be 20 times larger – and threatening – than the previous one.
“The coronavirus is lethal, but famine kills more people (…),” said Akinwumi A. Adesina, president of the African Development Bank. He also wrote that desert locusts can “wipe out crops that feed approximately 35,000 people in one day (…)”, so the effects could be devastating in East Africa, where 20 million people lack food security .
Controlling locusts has required immense amounts of pesticide – and political will. However, as the second wave of “locusts 19” looms, the East African nations have turned their attention to countering COVID-19. Hence, they have implemented travel restrictions, which would directly prevent the mitigation of locust swarms, which can travel up to 150 kilometers in a 24-hour period, and which destroy food that is destined for human consumption. Analysts say that many farmers will not have a harvest season in June.
There are donors who pledged or gave $ 153 million, through the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), so that governments can buy pesticides, helicopters and other essential materials that are necessary to combat the second wave. of lobsters. Despite this, “supplies purchased by the organization began arriving in mid-March, just as the second wave of voracious insects began to hatch (…),” according to the source of The New Humanitarian.
The maddening buzz of locusts is the tune of climate change.
“This particular outbreak began with heavy rains, stemming from two cyclones, in May and October 2018, which hit the southern Arabian Peninsula. This caused two generations of desert locusts to swarm. Each can be 20 times larger than the previous generation. “Matt Simon wrote for Wired.
Like the coronavirus, “the terrifying reality is that if you don't counteract a swarm of locusts in their early stages, there's practically nothing to do to stop them from spreading,” says Simon.
Internet users like Namaiyana very accurately tweet that the poorest will suffer the most from these crises:
Floods, locusts, covid19, foods and locusts again – these are the climate catastrophes that East Africa is currently facing, and yes it’s the people who live on less than a dollar a day that feel the full brunt of these crises. #FridaysForFuture
Pic: Alfy Alfredoh pic.twitter.com/Sk0phYKiQm
– Namaiyana (@fazeelamubarak) May 1, 2020
Floods, locusts, COVID-19, floods (N. of the T .: original typo) and locusts again… These are climatic catastrophes that East Africa is facing; And yes, those who live on less than a dollar a day will be the ones who suffer the most from these crises.
When the Uvira people, south of Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, suffered torrential rains in late April, it affected the lives of at least 80,000 people: it devastated houses and claimed the lives of almost 25 people, according to the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Most of the people in South Kivu had already been displaced because of the violence. Now that many are homeless, it is practically impossible for them to permanently protect themselves, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo is also trying to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
On Unguja Island, part of the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, heavy rains have caused one of the strongest floods that towns have seen since 1978, according to information from politician Simai M. Said:
Comforting my constituents in the village of Ubago after severe floods. The last recorded such heavy rain around the area was 1978. #Tunguu #Mpakabas
Geplaatst door Simai M Said Mpakabas op Zondag 3 mei 2020
Trying to help the people of the town of Ubago after severe floods. The last one so serious due to heavy rains was recorded in 1978.
Unfortunately, these catastrophes disappeared from the radar, as the world's attention is on the coronavirus pandemic:
While the world is focused on # COVID19, my hometown #Uvira, Eastern DRC, is almost wiped out by floods. Dozens of children and women have died. Humanitarian aid is desperately needed. #JeSuisUvira #IamUvira. pic.twitter.com/MtbREhTrO5
– Bukeni Waruzi (@bukeniwaruzi) April 19, 2020
While the world's attention is focused on COVID-19, my city, Uvira, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, is almost destroyed by the floods. Dozens of children and women have died. We urgently need humanitarian aid. I am Uvira.
“Reconfiguring the world”
This “devastating season” of pests and coronaviruses reveals all kinds of contradictions, according to Kenyan writer Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, who wrote a letter with great eloquence and titled “The Pestilence, the Populists and Us” for the online portal The Elephant.
The “flattering self-deception and all the mythology that we have about ourselves and the place of the 'other' have vanished and, in several cases, been destroyed in a very public way,” he wrote. “I hope that a massive reorientation, redesign and reconfiguration of the world will be generated.”
Thus, in order to face the current East African dilemma – all three crises at the same time – it will require creativity, resilience, leadership and large investments, and with this, “reconfigure the world”.
Akinwumi A. Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, created several policies to safeguard the lives of people so that they are enacted across Africa, thus halting the simultaneous hit of the coronavirus, locusts and floods: first, establish a tax-free “green route” across Africa to allow for the quick free passage of food and pesticides. Second, establish measures to avoid the rise in food prices, non-restrictive policies, as well as the release of food in the Government's grain reserve. Finally, invest in technology that is safe and innovative for food production.
In East Africa, it is not an option to focus only on the coronavirus — or only on desert locusts or massive flooding due to climate change. The future depends on it.