World Bank approves record $500 million to fight locust swarms

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The World Bank on Thursday approved a record $500 million in grants and low-interest loans to help countries in Africa and the Middle East fight locust swarms who weave their way through vast expanses of cultures and journeys.

FILE PHOTO: A man tries to fend off a swarm of locusts at a ranch near Nanyuki town in Laikipia county, Kenya February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Four of the hardest-hit countries – Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda – will receive $160 million immediately, senior World Bank official Holger Kray told Reuters. He said Yemen, Somalia and other affected countries could draw funds if needed.

“The Horn of Africa is at the epicenter of the worst locust outbreak we have seen in a generation, most likely in more than a generation,” he said, noting that the novel coronavirus pandemic exacerbates the crisis.

Swarms of locusts have infested 23 countries in East Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, the biggest outbreak in 70 years, according to the World Bank. It threatens food supplies in East Africa where nearly 23 million people face food shortages.

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The World Bank estimates that the Horn of Africa region could suffer up to $8.5 billion in damage to agricultural and livestock production by the end of the year without general measures to reduce populations of locusts and prevent their spread. Even with these measures, losses could reach $2.5 billion, he said.

The locusts can travel up to 150 km (95 miles) a day, sometimes in swarms up to 250 km (155.34 miles) in diameter, eating their own weight in the greenery. [nL4N2AI3WF]

In Kenya, locusts eat in one day the amount of food eaten by all Kenyans in two days, Kray said.

The new World Bank program will help farmers, pastoralists and rural households by providing fertilizers and seeds for new crops, as well as cash transfers to pay for food for people and livestock.

It will also fund investments to strengthen surveillance and early warning systems to make the region more resilient in the medium to long term, Kray said.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Leslie Adler

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