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Locusts, floods and COVID-19: a potentially deadly combination for malnourished children across the Horn of Africa

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Photos and video are available here

A new wave of locust lands on farmland near Hargeisa, Somaliland on 20th April 2020. More photos and video are available here.

The return of swarms of desert locusts – with more expected to hatch in May – coupled with the impact of COVID-19 and a return of flood season will devastate the chances of survival for malnourished children in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, Save the Children is warning.

This month, communities across the Horn of Africa, which are already reeling from the impact of COVID-19, are now also forced to contend with new swarms of locusts. The unusually wet period between the short rains of 2019 and the long rains of 2020 has encouraged egg laying by the swarms. With new waves already seen in parts of Ethiopia and Somalia, it is expected that vast swarms will rise in June and July in time for the harvest[1], further decimating crucial crops and food supplies at a time when the UN is already warning of the risk of “biblical” famines due to the coronavirus pandemic. The rains have also led to a dramatic increase in river levels of the Shabelle basin both in Ethiopia and Somalia[2]. It’s feared the river will flood this week and into early May, endangering over 240,000 people.

The decrease in available food, and increase in commodity prices are having significant impact on families living below the poverty line, with Save the Children staff being told of families skipping meals due to increased food prices. At least 5.2 million girls and boys under five are already acutely malnourished across Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, including nearly 1.3 million children who are severely malnourished and at risk of starvation[3].

An assessment of the impact of the first wave of the desert locusts in Ethiopia, co-authored by Save the Children, found that nearly one million people already require emergency food assistance as a direct result of the locusts[4]. The assessment further found that up to 1.3 million hectares of farmland was damaged by the locusts and cereal prices had increased by about 50 percent from 2019. Given the current dire situation, nutrition experts are expecting a substantial increase in emergency nutrition needs in the coming months.

Yvonne Arunga, Save the Children’s Regional Operations Director for East and Southern Africa, said:

“I’ve seen the work our staff are doing Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia to save young lives and help vulnerable families, but the scale at the moment is truly overwhelming. Our staff are also suffering - many of them are from the very communities which they serve. They are having to adapt to continue to deliver essential services while keeping themselves and the children they work with safe. To say this is unprecedented is an understatement. We need resources. We need people. And we need global support. Even though the world is reeling, we cannot forget the most vulnerable amongst us. 2020 will be a defining year for a generation of children across the Horn of Africa.”

Save the Children is working closely with local and national governments, the United Nations, and partners across the Horn of Africa to ensure nutrition screening and health programs continue, despite the challenges posed by COVID-19. Additionally, it will be critical to consult with highly affected population groups like women and children to anticipate and address any negative impacts that the crisis will have on women, girls, boys and men. Adaptive initiatives are taking place, including remote training of nutrition staff, protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding practices, doubling distributions of nutrition supplies, and upgrading health and nutrition facilities so they are COVID-19 safe.

In Canada, Save the Children is calling for the government to ensure the nutrition needs of children within the international response to COVID-19 and lead the way in ensuring that girls are not left behind. The agency has welcomed initial funding commitments made by Minister for International Development Karina Gould, and stands ready to work with the government of Canada to ensure the needs of those most vulnerable in this crisis are addressed.

To support Save the Children’s global COVID-19 emergency appeal, click here.

For more information and to arrange interviews, please contact:

  • Daphnee Cook in Australia: +254 717 524 904 [Mobile and WhatsApp]
  • Davina Hagan in London: [M]+44 7732 601762
  • During out of office hours: [M] +44 7831 650409
  • Jessica Bryant in Canada: [M] 1-647-973-1185



  • In Kenya, Save the Children is working with partners and the government to create awareness in communities on the ongoing locust control operations across affected regions. These messages include information about the locusts, what is being done to combat the surge, and safety measures before, during and after spraying, including advice to farmers about how to protect children from exposure to pesticides.

  • In Ethiopia, Save the Children supported the assessment on the impact of desert locusts on household livelihoods and food security and is participating in the Ethiopia Desert Locust Alliance. In addition, Save the Children is providing child protection technical support to the UN’s FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure the voices and unique vulnerability of children is taken into account during control efforts and future livelihood and food security assessments.

  • In Somalia, Save the Children has been supporting communities to prepare for the potential risks caused by multiple humanitarian crisis of COVID-19 and food insecurity. The organization has been working with the Ministry of Health to raise public awareness on how community members can protect themselves and contain the spread of the virus. In addition, Save the Children is currently scaling up cash programming in Somalia to respond to the family financing and food security crisis brought on by the economic fallout of covid-19 containment measures. We are currently delivering cash to more than 50,000 households and will be looking to expand this to another 70,000 households.

[1] FAO [21 April 2020]