While the whole world struggles to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, Ethiopia is facing several other disasters on multiple fronts. Long before the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, Ethiopia was facing the disastrous impacts of desert locust. As if it was not enough to be overwhelmed by the blowing impacts of coronavirus, the desert locust coupled with coronavirus now has been tripled with flooding to exacerbate the already wounded socio economic crises.
It is to be recalled that the virus was lethargic to reach Ethiopia and show its biting realities until the first case was reported in March. However, in a matter of days many Ethiopians have expressed fears COVID-19 could wipe the country considering the weak health infrastructures across the nation. Confirmed cases started to jump so quick that the daily reports by the Ministry of Health suggested the worst is yet to come. It was only in May that the country started to witness the fast swelling number of pandemic cases. The country is heading to 5,000 confirmed cases at a fast pace in recent weeks, on one single day as many as 400 new cases have been reported along with a slowly growing number of deaths.
In her daily situational updates, Lia Tadesse (MD), Minister of Health, on Saturday, June 20, 2020 has revealed that the highest number of infections in a single day ever recorded. From the total of 4,848 tests conducted in 24 hours, 399 cases turned out to be positive. Despite the spikes, the government has decided to relax some of the restrictive measures that have been implemented for weeks.
It has been clear that COVID-19 has depressed an economy that is being knocked on multiple fronts. The national economic and development planners have forcedly revised growth forecasts, downgrading a nine percent projection for this year to six percent. Causing more severe blows to the economy, COVID-19 has forced the Job Creation Commission to come up with projections that suggest the country will lose hundreds of thousands of jobs. In April, some 1.5 million employees and 700,000 micro and small scale jobs have been assumed to be lost within six months.
The government has been bailing out hard hit sectors of the economy due to the COVID-19. Tourism, hospitality, and horticulture have been identified as the most seriously affected segments which needed to have soft loans and tax waivers measures to survive and harbor employees despite no business activities.
While COVID-19 has tested the economy and the government’s effectiveness in withstanding critical crises, more disasters are in store exposing the country and stretching its leadership limitations. Desert locust and flooding are challenging the fragile social and economic systems.
The government has been charged with desert locust swarms for almost a year now. The locust invasion has kept intensifying into the Middle East and Asia. It has ravaged millions of hectares of pastures and damaged sizable crops in Ethiopia and across East Africa. The UN suggests that Ethiopia and Djibouti have never seen the like of such intense infestation in the past 25 years. These two countries along with Kenya and Somalia have seen the initial swarms in the region that first came from Yemen in the summer of 2019.
Orlando Sosa, an agriculture officer specializing in crops with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) working at the Sub Regional Office for Eastern Africa, noted that adult locusts typically live about 10 to 12 weeks, that is about three months depending on the climatic conditions. During that time, they mate and the females lay eggs with about 50 to 100 eggs being deposited. Eggs hatch in 10 to 20 days depending on environmental conditions. If one swarm contains 30 million individuals, which as Sosa and his team at FAO assume, 50 percent are female. Once these armies of locusts had successfully landed, mate and deposit eggs, it is assumed that about 750,000,000 locusts could have hatched in March and April.
The experts further analyzed that if no controlling measures are taken and if those locusts succeeded to feed, reach maturity and swarm again, then the chances are that a second round of egg laying will occur in May or June and a new batch of disastrous army will emerge in July or August. “Locusts have always been here and will always be here,” Sosa said.
Experts have confirmed the locust infestation remains to be very critical. In addition to Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are critically stormed by the locust which has been enjoying the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity as controlling efforts have been hampered by lockdowns. Ethiopia has reported that it has been facing difficulties in accessing spraying aircrafts and monitoring helicopters from abroad. Furthermore, importing pesticides remains another headache for the Ministry of Agriculture.
For mitigation and controlling efforts FAO has appealed for some 150 million dollars, out of which USD 118 million has been mobilized to assist ongoing works to control the swarming locust across 10 countries.
However, as of April, reports from both the government of Ethiopia and FAO have indicated that the locust has affected 800,000 agricultural households in Ethiopia alone. Some 200,000 cropland and 1.4 million hectares of rangeland have been affected. That has resulted in an additional loss of 357,000 tons of cereals and as a result close to one million people are feared to be dragged into needing emergency food assistance.
While such news has been circulating, another devastating natural calamity has knocked Ethiopia. The excessive mid-year rains (belg) which started in April have reached peaks in May, have resulted in massive floods mostly across arid areas of the country. Next to drought due to lack of rains, it is flooding or excessive rains that has kept hundreds of thousands Ethiopians in severe desperation.
According to the recent reports of the National Disaster Risk Management Commission (NDRMC), as of May, more than 300,000 people have been displaced with close to 500,000 people being affected and their livelihoods disrupted. Dozens have died in many parts of the affected areas. Somali Region being the most hit, some 342,000 people have been affected and close to 200,00o displaced.
In general, the COVID-19 pandemic together with the natural disasters have exposed some 30 million people to emergency food assistance. Despite the efforts and mobilization of resources, the number of Ethiopians forced to return from the Middle Eastern countries is another issue the country has to grapple with.
The challenging realities have also been reflected when the government was forced to request close 50 billion birr (close to USD 1.56 billion) as a supplementary budget to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the 26 billion it requested before March.
This led to a draft of an expansionary budget for the next fiscal year, 2020/21. According to Eyob Tekalign (PhD), State Ministry of Finance, next year’s budget needs to beef up to somewhere 476 billion from this year’s original 387 billion birr.
This shows a close to 20 percent advance when only considered the initial coffers or the original budget computed without the supplementary requirements. However, during the current fiscal year the government has requested an additional total 76 billion birr supplementary financing in order to tackle both humanitarian and economic crises.