Locust invasion threatens entire country, SC told

Updated Jun 07 2020

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The immediate challenge in the coming weeks is the presence of locust in Sindh, KP and Balochistan.  — Manoj Gemani/File
The immediate challenge in the coming weeks is the presence of locust in Sindh, KP and Balochistan. — Manoj Gemani/File

ISLAMABAD: The Punjab government informed the Supreme Court on Saturday that the entire country was under a serious threat of locust invasion if the menace was not contained in the breeding regions of the country.

An area of 300,000 square kilometres, roughly 37 per cent of the country’s total area, is vulnerable to the desert locust. Sixty per cent of the land is in Balochistan, 25pc in Sindh and 15pc in Punjab’s Cholistan region.

Balochistan falls within an area known as a spring breeding zone while Punjab and Sindh are in the summer breeding zone, according to a report placed by the Punjab government before the Supreme Court.

The report was filed as part of a reply to a query on May 19 by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed about the food security situation in view of the locust invasion. The chief justice was hearing a case on steps taken by the government to tackle the coronavirus crisis.

The hearing will resume on Monday (tomorrow).

Punjab says 37pc of country’s total area vulnerable to menace

Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan had expressed fears that Pakistan was afflicted not only with a medical emergency of gigantic proportions but also an imminent locust threat. This posed a danger to food security.

The AG stated that a huge swarm of locusts was heading from Africa towards Pakistan.

Now a report submitted by Punjab’s Additional Advocate General Chaudhry Faisal Hussain on Saturday explained that three districts — Bhakkar, D.G. Khan and Mianwali — were under the locust threat.

Punjab highlighted the need for deployment of maximum resources in the summer breeding areas of the country.

It said the menace had hitherto been confined to Cholistan, but now the central and northern regions were in the crosshairs as well due to climate change and massive egg-laying.

The recent locust wave must have affected forest plants like Shareen, Kikkar, Bir as well as fodder, newly germinated cotton, corn leaves and citrus, the report feared.

During the damage survey, it added, 15 varieties of crops infested with desert locust were observed. The damaged crops, spread over 715 acres, included cotton, sesame and Moong.

According to the report, urgent arrangements were needed for obtaining 50 micron sprayers, five aeroplanes and the services of 50 entomologists to support surveillance and combat operations in Punjab.

But the immediate challenge in the coming weeks is the presence of locust in Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan.

The report admitted that Bahawalpur division would be a major battlefield in summer as swarms would be coming from Sindh and Rajasthan.

Desert locust belongs to the grasshopper family Acrididae, which includes most of the short-horned grasshoppers. The desert locusts have up to five generations per year, a clear indication that their population damage is unimaginable.

They can destroy 10 per cent of the world’s food grain and cause a serious shortage. Even a swarm over one square kilometre can gobble up an amount of food grain in one day that can be sufficient for about 35,000 people.

Their migratory nature and capacity for rapid population growth present major challenges for control, particularly in remote semi-arid areas, which characterise much of the distribution area, Punjab explained.

Referring to the provincial government’s anti-locust strategy, the report stated that the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), in collaboration with the NDMA and other Punjab departments, had carried out a successful operation to combat the locust menace during the summer.

Already 84 surveillance teams were stationed at different places under the National Action Plan (NAP) to fight the danger. The second phase of operation has started in Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Multan, Khanewal, Lodhran, Vehari, D.G. Khan, Rajanpur, Layyah, Muzaffargarh, Khushab, Bhakkar, Mianwali and Attock.

Published in Dawn, June 7th, 2020