KAMPALA, Uganda — Locusts, COVID-19, and deadly flooding pose a “triple threat” to millions of people across East Africa, officials warned Thursday, while the World Bank announced a $500 million program for countries affected by the historic desert locust swarms.
A new and larger generation of the voracious insects, numbering in the billions, is on the move in East Africa, where some countries haven’t seen such an outbreak in 70 years. Climate change is in part to blame.
The added threat of COVID-19 imperils a region that already was home to about 20 percent of the world’s population of food-insecure people, including millions in South Sudan and Somalia.
Yemen in the nearby Arabian Peninsula is also threatened, and United Nations officials warn that if locusts are not brought under control there, the conflict-hit country will remain a reservoir for further infestations in the region.
Lockdowns imposed for the COVID-19 pandemic have slowed efforts to combat the locusts, especially imports of the pesticides needed for aerial spraying that is called the only effective control.
“We’re not in a plague, but if there are good rains in the summer and unsuccessful control operations, we could be in a plague by the end of this year,” said Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
He later told a UN briefing in New York that “the locust invasion is most serious now in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia’’ and is also “very serious in southern Iran and in parts of Pakistan.’’
Iran says 10,000 medics sick as virus fears rise in Mideast
TEHRAN — The coronavirus has infected more than 10,000 health care workers in hard-hit Iran, news outlets reported Thursday, as health officials in war-ravaged Yemen and Gaza also expressed mounting concern about waves of new cases.
Iran’s semiofficial news agencies cited Deputy Health Minister Qassem Janbabaei, who did not elaborate.
Iran is grappling with the deadliest outbreak in the Middle East, with at least 7,249 fatalities among more than 129,000 confirmed cases.
In Yemen, the international aid group Doctors Without Borders said the virus-related death toll at a medical center it runs in Aden attests to “a wider catastrophe” in the country, where a five-year civil war had already caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Another area of concern is the Gaza Strip, where the Health Ministry has reported 35 new cases in the last three days, bringing the total number to 55.
Gaza’s health care system has been severely degraded by a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power there in 2007. The territory only has around 60 ventilators for a population of 2 million.
Guatemala president fumes over infected US deportees
GUATEMALA CITY — Guatemala’s president questioned his country’s relationship with the United States, revealing frustration over its continuing to send deportees infected with COVID-19 to a country struggling to manage the crisis.
“This of allies with the United States isn’t true,” President Alejandro Giammattei said Thursday. “Guatemala is an ally of the United States, but the United States is not Guatemala’s ally. They don’t treat us like an ally.”
Giammattei is the first of the region’s leaders to speak out against the US policy that has sent thousands of deportees back to their countries since the pandemic began.
Guatemala has confirmed 119 deportees arrived with COVID-19 from the United States. The country has suspended the deportation flights on several occasions after infected passengers were detected, but resumed them after assurances from US authorities.
Oxfam to close 18 offices as pandemic drains finances
LONDON — Oxfam International, one of the world’s leading aid agencies, will severely curtail its work because of the financial strain caused by the coronavirus pandemic, including the closure of operations in 18 countries at the potential cost of 1,450 jobs.
The organization, which currently operates in 66 countries and whose global work is coordinated via 20 affiliate offices around the world, said in a statement late Wednesday that it has had to accelerate changes as a result of the pandemic.
Countries it will be exiting include Afghanistan, Egypt, Rwanda, Sudan, and Tanzania. It said the changes will affect around 1,450 out of nearly 5,000 program staff.
Woman, dying sister reunite after Australia allows travel
CANBERRA, Australia — A woman has tearfully embraced her dying sister in Australia after weeks of bureaucracy wrangling over pandemic travel restrictions.
Australia had rejected Christine Archer’s request for permission to fly from New Zealand four times before her story attracted media attention.
Her only sister Gail Baker was diagnosed with incurable ovarian cancer in late March after both countries stopped international travel. Baker has perhaps weeks to live.
Archer was eventually allowed to fly to Sydney and spent only a week in hotel quarantine before testing negative for the coronavirus. International travelers are usually quarantined for two weeks.
Family friends drove the retired nurse 490 kilometers (300 miles) from Sydney to the New South Wales state coastal town of Bowraville.
Archer finally hugged her younger sibling in the front yard of Baker’s home on Wednesday. It was their first reunion in six years.
“Words can’t explain how I feel, to be honest.” Archer told Australian Broadcasting Corp. in an interview aired Thursday.