Desert locusts swarm large areas of India and Pakistan during Covid-19 crisis
More than 50 000 hectares of desert areas were hit by a swarm of crop-destroying locusts in western India. Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh were the worst hit.
Authorities called a nationwide emergency in neighbouring Pakistan, where local reports claim the plague “the worst locust plague in nearly three decades“. The aggressive insects have been decimating crops since February causing food prices to soar.
These two normally hostile countries have presented a unified front to fight these migratory invaders. The swarms flew across the border in swarms up to 40 million insects that can travel over 240 miles a day.
The Covid-19 crisis is making the fight against these swarms challenging to the 100 odd person team tasked with combating the plague. They are using vehicle mounted sprayers and drones to try and contain the surging swarms with pesticides.
Some reports estimate that nearly 500 000 hectares of crops across Rajasthan have been almost decimated by the locusts. The United Nations have warned that the locusts swarms pose a serious risk to Indian agriculture this year.
Experts say that the swarms had their origin in Africa, where increased rainfall triggered a breeding explosion Indian experts project that the swarm had a second wave of breeding. According to Indian experts, the swarm entering India now had another round of breeding in Baluchistan, Iran and Pakistan.
Concern is escalating as the sowing period approaches in June for kharif and staples such as rice maize, millet, and soybeans. Not only the crops are affected as the swarms devour any plant life in their path.
Normally the effects of the seasonal swarms are only felt in areas of Western Rajasthan but now the locusts have spread all the way to Jaipur City. Earlier this year the united nations issued a warning about the threat of locust in Iran and parts of Southern Pakistan.
The even more alarming concern is that a second wave of locusts is expected that could be 20 times more devastating than the current crisis. The UN estimated that the numbers could be as much as 1.9 trillion locusts.
Although locust swarms have plagued India historically, the numbers have been unprecedented and the highest in almost three decades. Pakistan too, declared a national state of emergency earlier this year and the government has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to declare a state of national calamity.