A locust plague in Pakistan is threatening millions of livelihoods as the South Asian country faces rising cases and a mounting death toll from the coronavirus pandemic.
The infestation, seen as the worst in three decades, is already affecting 61 of the country’s nearly 160 districts in all of its four provinces. This means locusts have already covered nearly 40 percent of its more than 770,000 square kilometers land area.
After declaring a national emergency in February, the authorities are now bracing for more swarms of the insects from neighboring Iran, Gulf countries across the Arabian Sea, and even the Horn of Africa.
“We are seeing a mounting domestic locust threat with new swarms breeding and forming in the [southwestern province of] Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province [in the northwest, and parts of the [eastern] Punjab Province,” Muhammad Ishaq Mastoi, an entomologist with the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council in Islamabad, told the BBC Urdu Service.
He says Pakistan is expecting large swarms of locusts from its near and far neighbors.
“The biggest threat we face is from swarms already ravaging countries in the Horn of Africa,” he said. “We are already seeing infestations crossing over from Iran and will see some arriving from Oman and Yemen.”
The locust plague is now threatening millions of livelihoods in the country and could possibly wreak havoc in the agricultural sector, which is the backbone of Pakistan’s ailing economy.
Mastoai says that without swiftly controling the locust outbreaks, his country faces a much larger threat.
“It is possible that the locusts will threaten our food crops,” he said. “If we had an extraordinary increase in rainfall like the previous years, we might be facing a larger threat.”
Islamabad is planning to allocate more than $12 million in this month’s annual budget to combat the infestation. Lieutenant General Mohammad Afzal, the chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority says they are working on a comprehensive plan to combat the issue.
“We will try our best to utilize all the resources available in the country to tackle these threats and the whole nation will counter them effectively,” he told journalists last week while alluding to mounting coronavirus infections and possible floods this summer.
Pakistan has so far recorded more than 1,600 deaths from COVID-19. The country of 220 million has documented 76,000 more coronavirus cases, a number which sharply rose after authorities ended a lockdown last month and largely failed to implement measures to curb infections.