–Port city faces largest locust attack since 1961
–Farmers fear govt’s apathy which caused losses of hundreds of thousands in interior Sindh
–Nothing to fear as locusts are only in transit, says Department of Plant Protection
KARACHI: Swarms of locusts descended in multiple localities including city areas as well as farmlands of Karachi on Monday, sending citizens and farmers in a frenzy while the government attempted to pacify them by assuring that it was a simple locust migration.
The swarms of locusts, which took citizens by surprise, entered a private school and hospital at Stadium Road besides disrupting the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy being played at the National Stadium and launching a full fledged attack at the Old Sabzi Mandi.
As the cricketers stopped playing to cover their eyes and ears in a bid to avoid contact with the insects, many citizens also uploaded videos on social media showing locusts entering their homes and buzzing around streets of residential areas.
However, residents of Malir, Korangi, Gulshan Iqbal, Hassan Square, Bahadurabad and adjoining areas witnessed the largest swarms disturbing normal life.
Pakistan had last experienced a locust attack on this scale in 1961.
This is horrifying; millions of locusts swarming over Karachi like an apocalypse is to come.
They are about to wreak havoc on the available farmland in Karachi; so lets eat them before they rot or run away. #Locust #ClimateChange pic.twitter.com/E9ylcG8Eoj
— junaid ahmed | جنید احمد (@Junaid_ahmed_) November 11, 2019
A similarly horrifying view was also shared by model and actress Sunita Marshall.
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Earlier in October, the federal Department of Plant Protection (DPP) had issued a report warning of the possibility of such attacks stating that the farm destroying grasshopper breeds in November while adding that some swarms were already reported to be moving from the coastal areas of Balochistan towards Sindh.
In this regard, the Sindh agriculture minister had recently asked the plant protection department to spray insecticide in all the infested areas of the province.
While some called it a Biblical plague, farmers in Malir, Gadap and other areas in the outskirts of Karachi have expressed grave concern over the possible threat of locust-infested fields and appealed to the provincial authorities to take measures urgently if crops are to be saved.
The farmers fear that they would suffer loses similar to the farmers of Dadu, Khairpur, Sukkur, Ghotki and Thari Mirwah where a locust invasion, believed to have come from Iran, hit cotton fields fed by canal irrigation from the Indus River in June this year.
“If they (locusts) come in large numbers, it is impossible for any of crop to survive. The insects will only leave after completely consuming the crop and then move on to destroy another one,” a local farmer Adbul Adheem lamented.
Similarly, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in the first week of September had also warned that the situation relating to locusts in Pakistan was “most serious” as a second generation of the insect had been bred.
According to the FAO’s Locust Watch report, the threat of swarm formation was from late September onwards.
It is pertinent to mention here that the crop eating insects trigger famine by thoroughly eating cops and vegetation they find at any place. A single swarm, that ranges between 100,000 to a billion locusts, can devour 200 tonnes of food in a day. They can also fly a distance of 150 kilometres to search for more food.
On the other hand, the Department of Plant Protection of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research have assured that the locusts would not have any effect on crops.
DPP Technical Director Muhammad Tariq Khan while speaking to the media on Sunday had said that the desert locust activity observed in Malir and adjoining areas of Karachi is part of the creature’s migration from summer-monsoon breeding zone towards coastal areas of Balochistan, where it originally came from.
“Desert locusts fly during day time and settle during the night. This is a simple migration activity which usually does not cause damage since the locusts are not searching for food,” he said while adding that the insect had come towards this region to enjoy optimal breeding conditions i.e. sandy soil with moisture and vegetation.
He concluded by giving an assurance that the government, with the help of locust control teams, was prepared to overcome any risks the species might pose as per technical guidelines as the DPP was closely monitoring the situation.
Locusts are short horned grasshoppers. While desert locusts are normally solitary, spring and monsoon rains trigger a behavioural transformation that can result in swarms of locust. In Pakistan, the desert locust has two breeding seasons and regions: winter-spring breeding zone located in desert areas of Balochistan which prevails during February to June and summer-monsoon breeding zone located in Tharparkar, Nara and Cholistan deserts, which takes place from June to November.
This year, there is an upsurge in desert locust population in countries that are the potential habitat of the species from the West African region to the subcontinent due to extra monsoon rains.