India, Pakistan witness worst locust swarms in decades

Islamabad, New Delhi, May 27 (efe-epa).- Pakistan and India have been witnessing the worst attack of locusts in decades, a crisis that could seriously affect agriculture, a sector that employs around half of the region’s population, at a time when the coronavirus epidemic has already stretched resources.

“This is a plague that can have devastating impacts for farmers and their livelihoods and agriculture if not addressed timely and at scale,” Mina Dowlatchahi, the representative of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization in Pakistan, told EFE on Wednesday.

Desert locusts had arrived in Pakistan from Iran last summer and were expected to disappear during the winter, but an unusually rainy and humid winter has led to swarms that has engulfed around 38 percent of the country’s territory, mainly in the southern provinces of Balochistan and Sindh.

“The entire country is under the threat of invasion if the desert locust is not contained in the breeding regions,” an FAO report warned, calling it the worst infestation of the insect in Pakistan since 1993.

Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority has launched an operation with 1,500 teams in four provinces to tackle the attack, its president, Lieutenant General Muhammad Afzal, said in a press conference.

Afzal said on Tuesday that the agency had been using 9 aircrafts including 5 military helicopter to spray insecticides, apart from other measures.

According to FAO estimates, the swarms could cause losses up to 817 billion Pakistani rupees (around $5 billion) in a country where agriculture contributes around 20 percent of the GDP and employs around 40 percent of the 207 million inhabitants.

The crisis could aggravate an already precarious economic situation caused by the coronavirus epidemic, with the Pakistani economy predicted to register its first negative growth in 68 years.

The locusts, species of short-horned grasshoppers, have also caused concern in neighboring India, where swarms of the insects have entered from Pakistan in the border state of Rajasthan and are moving towards the nearby provinces of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

“The locust swarms are entering from Pakistan into western Rajasthan, and they are approaching the district of (state capital) Jaipur,” KL Gurjar, the deputy director of India’s Locust Warning Organization, told EFE on Wednesday.

The swarms, which can move 200-300 kilometers (125-185 miles) in a day and settle down at night, can reach sizes of up to 1-4 square kilometers (100-400 hectares).

“Presently we have controlled 45.000 hectares with the help of central government and the affected states,” said Gurjar, who also affirmed that this was the worst locust attack in India in at least two decades.

He said it was fortunate that the attack of the insects – who can consume nearly all types of vegetation in their path – has arrived at a time when farmers have already harvested most of the major crops. EFE-EPA


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