Locust attack

Published February 1, 2020

PAKISTAN is facing its worst locust infestation in more than 25 years. The crop-eating grasshopper — which entered Pakistan in June last year, attacked Iran and then spread to some Indian districts along Cholistan — has already struck a large area of the country, especially its south-western districts, in recent months, ravaging cotton and food crops. Locust swarms can potentially threaten our food security and economy if left uncontrolled. Farmers from Sindh and parts of KP have already reported significant crop losses caused by the outbreak. The national food security minister acknowledged the severity of the situation for the first time on Thursday. He dubbed the eruption as “unprecedented and alarming” and also hinted at declaring a national emergency to control the threat. His admission that the country is just one step away from entering the most serious category of the pest attack has raised many an eyebrow over the authorities’ inaction ever since the swarm entered the country. Addressing members of the National Assembly after the issue was raised by some opposition legislators, the minister sought to allay the fears of farmers, saying the government had prepared a national action plan to stop the further spread of locusts and allocated half a billion rupees to control the outbreak. But he didn’t elaborate on the measures so far taken to protect the farmers and their crops.

The outbreak is blamed in part on climate change. If lower temperatures continue and the weather remains wet for a longer time, it will spread even further as a swarm leaves its breeding ground on the Pakistan-India border along Cholistan. Unless the government addresses the situation on an emergency basis, matters are unlikely to come under control until drier weather sets in — and that would be quite late. The outbreak has also exposed how ill-prepared and ill-equipped the authorities are to handle such emergencies. Aerial pesticide spraying is said to be the only effective control. But the government does not have any aircraft for spraying pesticides in areas that are swarming with desert locust, which descended on Karachi in November for the first time in nearly 48 years. According to the United Nations, the timing of pesticide spraying is important to stop the locust from damaging crops, plants and vegetation. The farmers from the affected areas have decried the inaction of the federal and provincial governments. The rulers must realise that further delay in spraying pesticide could multiply crop losses, especially of the smallholders.

Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2020

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