Following infestation of swarms of desert locusts in the eastern part of Pakistan the country’s Prime Minister Imran Khan declared national emergency on Saturday to protect crops and help farmers. The Pakistan government said it was the worst locust infestation in more than two decades.

“We are facing the worst locust infestation in more than two decades and have decided to declare national emergency to deal with the threat,” Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said on Saturday.

The desert locusts — large herbivores that resemble grasshoppers — arrived in Pakistan from Iran in June and have already ravaged cotton, wheat, maize and other crops.

Favorable weather conditions and a delayed government response have helped the locusts breed and attack crop areas.

Their potential for large-scale destruction is raising fears of food insecurity.

India-Pakistan border

Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported: Pakistan’s National Food Security Minister Makhdoom Khusro Bak­h­tiar said the locust swarms were currently on the Pakistan-India border around Cholistan and were previously in Sindh and Balochistan.

“The locust attack is unprecedented and alarming,” Bak­h­tiar told Pakistani lawmakers in a briefing on Friday.

“Action has been taken against the insect over 0.3 million acres (121,400 hectares) and aerial spray was done on 20,000 hectares,” he was quoted as saying by Pakistani newspaper The Express Tribune. “District administrations, voluntary organizations, aviation division and armed forces are put into operation to combat the attack and save the crops,” he added.

Dawn reported: Imran pledged to tackle the issue, adding that protection of agriculture and farmers was the government’s priority.

“The federal government will take all possible steps and provide required facilities to protect crops from any possible danger with special focus on the danger of locust,” Khan said.

The last time Pakistan saw a serious threat of locusts was in 1993.

Somalia declares emergency

Somalia has also declared a national emergency as large swarms of locusts spread across east Africa.

The country’s Ministry of Agriculture said the insects, which consume large amounts of vegetation, posed “a major threat to Somalia’s fragile food security situation”.

The UN says the swarms are the largest in Somalia and Ethiopia in 25 years.

However, Somalia is the first country in the region to declare an emergency over the infestation.

Somalia’s unstable security situation means that planes cannot be used to spray insecticide from the air.

In January, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) called for international help in fighting the swarms in the Horn of Africa, warning that a larger swarm is expected in April across the region, which could grow up to 500 times in size by June.

The swarms spread into east Africa from Yemen across the Red Sea, after heavy rainfall in late 2019 created ideal conditions for the insects to flourish.

Locusts can travel up to 150km (93 miles) in a day. Each adult insect can eat its own weight in food daily.

In December, a locust swarm forced a passenger plane off course in Ethiopia. Insects smashed into the engines, windshield and nose, but the aircraft was able to land safely in the capital, Addis Ababa.

Skies over Saudi Arabia, Yemen

Residents in Saudi Arabia and Yemen have been faced with the bewildering sight of a gargantuan swarm of roughly 360 billion locusts, which can block out the sun at times.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Environment has warned residents not to eat any of the locusts as they are likely contaminated with toxic pesticides.

The FAO has warned that the insects could “reproduce rapidly and, if left unchecked, their current numbers could grow 500 times by June,” spreading to Uganda and South Uganda.

The massive locust swarm measures roughly the size of Manhattan and has caused tens of millions of dollars worth of damage, devastating East Africa in one of the worst outbreaks in decades.

FAO seeks fund to tackle the emergency

The FAO of has requested over $75 million to tackle the emerging crisis caused by the swarm. The insect outbreak was itself triggered by a series of recent cyclones, which produced ideal breeding conditions for the pests.

Desert locusts consume their own bodyweight in food each day, and can travel up to 150km in swarms large enough to block out the sun.

“A swarm the size of Rome can eat enough food in one day as everybody in Kenya,” said Keith Cressman, FAO’s senior agriculture officer.

Billions of locusts swarmed over East Africa

A locust invasion in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia has left crops devastated. It is the biggest swarm in decades, with billions of the ravenous insects nibbling their way through the already climate-ravaged region.

Thick clouds of locusts are blackening the skies of East Africa from Ethiopia and Somalia into Kenya due to extreme weather changes.

Experts warned that the insect infestation could have disastrous effects on a region still recovering from recent drought and aggressive flooding.

The FAO estimated that one locust invasion in Kenya covered around 2,400 square kilometers (930 square miles) and contained up to 200 billion locusts which descend to feed off plants and vegetation.

People in Kenya were seen shooting in the air, waving sticks, banging cans and running around trying to chase the locusts away, according to the Associated Press news agency.

Biggest in decades

For Ethiopia and Somalia, the infestation is the biggest in 25 years, according to the FAO.

Farmers faced frustration as vegetation for their livestock is consumed by the ravenous locusts. Many were just slowly recovering from three years of drought, a process, which usually takes up to five years.

Climate crisis

In an already vulnerable region with high levels of poverty, the locusts can further devastate crops, resulting in “a major food security problem”, said Guleid Artan of the Climate Prediction and Applications Centre at a press conference in Nairobi.

The locusts, he warned, were the latest symptom of extreme weather conditions that also saw a 2019 drought end in one of the wettest rainy seasons in four decades in parts of East Africa, with mass floods killing hundreds. The year 2019 witnessed eight cyclones, the most in a single year since 1976.

From East Africa to Australia

Artan attributed the weather crisis in East Africa to a warmer western Indian Ocean — a climate condition referred to as the Indian Ocean Dipole, which has conversely led to extreme drought in Australia.

Miles away, Australia is also currently undergoing its own nature extremities: wildfires, dust storms, flooding and hail.

“We know East Africa is one of the most vulnerable to climate change. We know this region will see more extremes,” Artan said.

If the locusts are not controlled by the beginning of the next planting and rainy season around March, herders could see more crops devastated.

Kenyan farmers hit by worst locust swarms in 70 years

The current infestation of locusts in Kenya is the worst in Kenya for 70 years.

Desert locusts have ravaged at least 11 of Kenya’s 47 counties, leaving a trail of destruction on farmland. Experts say if the locust invasion is not checked, it could pose a serious threat to food security and livelihoods in the region.

FAO’s Locust Watch: Locusts will increase further as a new generation of breeding starts in the Horn of Africa

The current Desert Locust situation remains extremely alarming and represents an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods in the Horn of Africa. This will be further exacerbated by new breeding that has commenced, which will cause more locust infestations.

India/Pakistan: Control operations continue against residual summer-bred swarms along both sides of the border.

Kenya: Immature swarms continue to arrive in the northeast and move throughout northern and central areas, having invaded 13 counties to date. Some swarms have started to lay eggs that will hatch in early February and new swarms could start to form by early April in northern counties. Although a few swarms have reached the Rift Valley, they are likely to remain in northern areas. Aerial and ground control operations are in progress but need upscaling. Further movements are expected in Turkana and central counties.

Ethiopia: Swarms continue to be present throughout eastern areas, including the Ogaden, while some continue to move to the south and into the Rift Valley. Another generation of breeding will increase locust numbers further. Aerial and ground control operations are in progress but need upscaling.

Somalia: In the northeast, hopper bands are present and swarms are laying eggs where hatching and further hopper band formation are imminent. Other swarms have been reported in the south near the Kenya border.

South Sudan and Uganda: As the nearest swarms are about 200 km away in Kenya, a few of these could appear at any time in the coming days in the extreme southeast of South Sudan and, to a lesser extent, in northeast Uganda.

In addition to the Horn of Africa, there are several other hot spots where important Desert Locust infestations are developing.

Djibouti: A few swarms were reported near Ali Sabieh and the Ethiopian border. More details are awaited.

Eritrea: Ground control operations are underway against hopper groups that are fledging and forming adult groups on the northern and central coast. At least one swarm arrived on the southern coast near Assab on the 20th either from Yemen or Ethiopia.

Sudan: Locust infestations are increasing on the Red Sea coast where hopper bands have formed and mature swarms are laying eggs. Aerial and ground control operations are in progress.

Oman: Ground control operations continue against hopper bands and several swarms in the northeast. A few small swarms migrated southwards along the eastern coast, reaching Salalah.

Saudi Arabia and Yemen: Hopper bands have formed along Red Sea coastal plains from Jeddah to Hodeidah, many of which have fledged and formed immature groups of adults that are maturing. Immature swarms formed in Yemen on the coast and some moved into the highlands. Another generation of breeding will cause locust numbers to increase further. Aerial and ground control operations are in progress in Saudi Arabia while limited ground control has been carried out in Yemen.

Iran: Swarm breeding is thought to be underway along parts of the southern coast.


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