This is an excerpt of an op-ed featured in World Politics Review.
This time last year, countries in East Africa were leading the continent in economic growth. Now, much of that progress is at risk as the region faces a dangerous triple threat: torrential rain and flooding, voracious swarms of locusts and the coronavirus pandemic.
The three crises are compounding each other’s impacts. Border closures that were put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 have strained the supply of pesticides and other equipment to fight the locusts that have ravaged the region for months now. Food supplies that were already under siege from the pests have been further devastated by flooding that has forced over 1 million people to flee their homes. That population now faces the threat of contracting the coronavirus in the region’s crowded and often unsanitary camps for internally displaced people.
East African governments are clearly struggling as they seek to respond simultaneously on all three fronts. However, smart and timely support from the international community can help. Donors and aid agencies will need to help affected countries strike the right balance across competing priorities to save the most lives. This will require transnational cooperation, the upholding of asylum laws and proper funding for humanitarian appeals and development programs.
Tackling any one of these three crises on its own would be a formidable challenge. Consider the rapidly multiplying locust swarms that hit the Horn of Africa in December 2019 and spread across the region. The damage is staggering: Just one square kilometer of locusts consumes enough food in one day to feed some 35,000 people. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that around 1.7 million hectares of land, or 4.2 million acres, would need to be treated to control the infestation. Up to 2.5 million people could be affected, in a region where over 25 million already suffered from food insecurity. But international attention and funding have fallen short. In May, as the locusts multiplied in the Horn of Africa and spread beyond it, the FAO increased its request for funding from U.N. member states to $311.6 million, up from $153.3 million. The response is a little over halfway funded to date.