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On Thursday, May 21, the World Bank approved $500 million in grants and low-interest loans to help countries in Africa and the Middle East fight the invasion of desert locusts.

Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, which are the hardest hit by the locust invasion, will receive $160 million immediately while Yemen, Somalia, and other affected countries could tap into the funds as needed.

“The Horn of Africa finds itself at the epicenter of the worst locust outbreak we have seen in a generation, most probably in more than a generation,” Holger Kray, a senior World Bank official said, adding that the new coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating the crisis.

Desert locusts can travel up to 150 kilometers (95 miles) a day, sometimes in swarms as large as 250 km (155.34 miles) across, eating their own body weight in greenery. According to the Bank, over 23 countries across East Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia have been affected by the biggest outbreak of locusts in 70 years.

The swarms are eating their way across vast swaths of crops and rangelands, leading to the destruction of crops and food insecurity. The locust invasion threatens food supplies in East Africa where nearly 23 million people face food shortages. In Kenya, the locusts are eating in one day the amount of food consumed by all Kenyans in two days, Kray said.

The World Bank’s estimates show that Africa could suffer up to $8.5 billion in damage to crop and livestock production by year-end without broad measures to reduce locust populations and prevent their spread. Even with the measures, losses could be as high as $2.5 billion, it said.

However, the new grant will help farmers, herders, and rural households by providing fertilizer and seeds for new crops, and cash transfers to sponsor food for people and livestock. It will also fund investments to strengthen surveillance and early warning systems to make the region more resilient over the medium to longer-term, Kray said.

The World Bank assistance is in addition to the Bank Group’s pledge to make available $160 billion in grants and financial support over a 15-month period to help developing countries respond to the health, social and economic impacts of COVID-19 and the economic shutdown in advanced countries.

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