Cloud of locusts flying in Mwingi North, Kenya, in February. Photo: Fred Mutune/Xinhua via Getty Images

Traveling locust swarms in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, that had reached the size of Manhattan in some places, are still growing in East Africa, and the problem is now compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.

Driving the news: New cases of coronavirus have been discovered in much of the region this month, and the pandemic also is slowing the delivery of pesticides that can kill the insects.

  • "In Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia widespread breeding is in progress and new swarms are starting to form, representing an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods at the beginning of the upcoming cropping season,” the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said last week.

The organization added: "Along with climate shocks, conflict and acute food insecurity, the East Africa region now faces a hunger threat from Desert Locust. This is a scourge of biblical proportions."

State of play: The locusts could multiply by 400 times this year, as swarms are maturing and will be ready to lay eggs beginning in early April.

  • That could decimate crops in a region that relies on agriculture for about one-third of its GDP and more than 65% of employment.

The big picture: East Africa was the standout performer for economic growth in the African subcontinent prior to the locust outbreak, and with more cases mounting in Africa's two economic hubs, South Africa and Nigeria, the continent's growth could grind to a halt.

  • New swarms also are forming in Yemen, and Iran, which both have been ravaged by violent clashes for much of the past year, and the selloff in oil markets has compounded the economic toll.

On the positive side: Government agencies say the locust situation is under control in Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iraq, Pakistan and India.

Go deeper: Locust swarms put millions at risk of starvation across Africa and Asia

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