ISLAMABAD: In the midst of coronavirus impact on health and livelihoods, Pakistan is also facing an imminent danger of locust attacks that may ultimately affect food security, it emerged during a recent hearing in the Supreme Court of a case pertaining to the prevention of coronavirus pandemic.
Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan on Tuesday told a five-judge bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, that the country was bracing for an imminent brunt of locust attack.
A huge swarm of locusts will be migrating from some African countries such as Ethiopia to Pakistan in the coming days that may damage the crops, the AG feared, recalling how 30 years ago the country had faced a similar plague.
He apprised the SC of steps being taken by the government to prevent locust attacks for which the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) had been involved to devise strategies.
The CJP recalled how in yesteryear, the plant protection department of the government used to spray pesticides to protect standing crops from all kinds of pest attacks that harmed food and livestock. He regretted that the department had faded into oblivion, as no one had ever heard about the functioning of this institution.
NDMA tells apex court it’s aware of situation
The chief justice, during the hearing of coronavirus case on Monday, had also expressed the fear that the country might face food security issue due to the locust attack and had questioned why the practice of aerial spray had been done away with.
While carrying out pesticide spray to eliminate locusts during the previous wave of attack, a pilot and an aviation engineer lost their lives on Jan 12 when their single-engine plane crashed in Cholistan. The light aircraft was hired for spraying pesticide in the area to tackle the renewed wave of locust attack, which began in December 2019, on the request of the district administration.
Lt Gen Mohammad Afzal, chairman of the NDMA, told the apex court that the authority was alive to the situation.
He said the NDMA had signed a contract with a Karachi-based firm, which manufactures mechanical parts for US Boeing company, to build 15 aerial spraying machines. He apprised the court that if their equipment was found to be satisfactory, a contract of another batch of 200 machines would also be awarded to the firm.
Lt Gen Afzal further said spray machines had also been attached with five helicopters of Pakistan Army for spraying pesticides over the area with high chances of infestation.
Containing locusts in breeding regions
In its recent report ‘Desert locust situation in Pakistan’, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations had cautioned Pakistan of a potentially serious food security crisis this year due to locust attacks.
The FAO had highlighted migration pattern of desert locust in South West Asia, its current invasion in different countries, potential impact on Pakistan’s agricultural economy as well as the ongoing efforts of Pakistan’s government to contain the pest and the emerging scenario.
The report had expressed the fear that Pakistan and Iran in the eastern region were prone as locust breeding was taking place in these areas.
Thirty eight per cent area of Pakistan — namely 60pc in Balochistan, 25pc in Sindh and 15pc in Punjab — are breeding grounds for the desert locust, it said, adding that the entire country was under the threat of invasion if the desert locusts were not contained in the breeding regions.
“This year the situation is aggravated as for the first time in many decades there is a second threat of invasion by swarms in East Africa in late June and during July,” the report warned.
Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2020