As Africa Locks Down, Some Deliveries of Aid Are Threatened

06 April 2020

More than half of Africa's 54 countries have closed their land, air and sea borders to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Aid organizations fear the restrictions may stop or delay important assistance to the people.

Africa now has more than 7,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The continent also has to deal with hunger, armed conflicts and swarms of crop-destroying locusts.

FILE - A man attempts to fend-off a swarm of locusts at a ranch near the town of Nanyuki in Laikipia county, Kenya, February 21, 2020. (REUTERS/Baz Ratner/File Photo)
FILE - A man attempts to fend-off a swarm of locusts at a ranch near the town of Nanyuki in Laikipia county, Kenya, February 21, 2020. (REUTERS/Baz Ratner/File Photo)

If humanitarian aid is stopped by the outbreak, "the results will be catastrophic," the medical group Doctors Without Borders warned in a statement last week.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported at least 32 countries have now closed their borders. This has forced aid organizations to negotiate for emergency flights and find pathways for humanitarian efforts.

The Vaccine Alliance GAVI said that at least 21 poor countries, mostly in Africa, face shortages of important vaccines because of border closures or flight cancellations. The United Nations had said earlier that some countries were refusing to accept shipments from nations with coronavirus outbreaks.

Problems with locusts

The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, or FAO, added that flight restrictions are also hurting efforts to control large groups of locusts in East Africa.

The continent is experiencing the worst locust outbreak in 70 years. And the flight restrictions have delayed the arrival of pesticides to control the insects.

Cyril Ferrand leads the FAO's support program for East Africa. He told Reuters that without the pesticides to control insects, there could be 4 million more people struggling to feed their families.

The locusts came from Yemen and have damaged crops in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. It is the second swarm of locusts to attack the area. It has come just as new-season crops are being planted. Ferrand warned if the "insects are landing on these young crops, then these farmers will be facing a 100 percent loss."

Humanitarian pathways

Shortly before South Africa began its three-week lockdown, the World Food Program, or WFP, negotiated a pathway to send shipments of food through the country to other southern African nations.

Lola Castro is the World Food Program's director for southern Africa. She said the lockdown affected the program. She urged that "it's extremely important that food systems continue ... (and) also be able to move across borders."

A recently released FAO document on the coronavirus notes that restrictions during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014-2016 caused a lot of hunger. It said the suffering worsened as the lockdown led to labor shortages at harvest time and farmers were unable to bring their crops to market.

I'm John Russell.

The Associated Press and the Reuters News Agency reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English.


Words in This Story

locust – n. a type of grasshopper that travels in large groups and can caused destruction by eating crops

swarm – n. a large group of bugs

pesticide – n. a chemical that kills bugs

lockdown – n. to completely shut down a community

outbreak - n. the sudden appearance of a disease

catastrophic - adj. something that is terrible for many people

shipment - n. an item that is sent from one place to another