Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, India’s response to natural disasters is expected to be tested again this summer when a giant locust storm from the Horn of Africa is expected to attack farmlands in South Asia.
Official sources said that the government was preparing for a “two-front war”— one, which was ongoing against the COVID-19 infections and another to ensure food security — in anticipation of the locust attack on farms.
“We are preparing for a worst-case scenario. Starting from the Horn of Africa, and joined by desert locusts from breeding grounds en route, one locust stream can travel over a land corridor passing over Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and India, impacting farmlands in Punjab, Haryana and the Indo-Gangetic plain. But another stream passing over the Indian Ocean can directly attack farms in peninsular India, and then head towards Bangladesh. Together, this can cause a serious food security issue,” the source said.
The destructive power of a typical locust swarm, which can vary from less than one square kilometre to several hundred square kilometres, is enormous, says the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on its website. A one square kilometre swarm, containing about 40 million locusts, can in a day eat as much food as 35,000 people, assuming that each individual consumes 2.3 kg of food per day.
An FAO situation update of April 21 paints a grim picture. It spotlights that desert locusts, which are breeding this spring in East Africa, Yemen and southern Iran, will gravely heighten the threat to food security in the Afro-Asian region.
Interactive map of confirmed coronavirus cases in India
In Iran, locust swarms could be forming near Jask — a port city on the Gulf of Oman, as well the Sistan-Baluchistan province, bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan, opening two trajectories of movement. In Pakistan, breeding grounds have been detected in Balochistan, the Indus Valley as well as Punjab. Besides, limited breeding has also been spotted near the Indian border. “We are hoping that the Pakistani side will take active measures to contain the crisis in their country, which can minimise the impact on India and beyond,” the source said.
Most countries combating locust swarms are mainly relying on organophosphate chemicals, which are applied in small concentrated doses by vehicle-mounted and aerial sprayers.
The looming locust attack, which could undermine food security in the Afro-Asian region, follows the economic devastation, and the savaging of incomes, by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a briefing to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, David Beasley, Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme, warned that the pandemic could now be fusing into a “hunger pandemic”.
“Lockdowns and economic recession are expected to lead to a major loss of income among the working poor… The loss of tourism receipts will damage countries such as Ethiopia, where it accounts for 47% of total exports. The collapsing oil prices in lower-income countries like South Sudan will have an impact significantly, where oil accounts for 98.8% of total exports. And, of course, when donor countries’ revenues are down, how much impact will this have on life saving foreign aid?” he observed.
Mr. Beasley estimated that COVID-19 would push an additional 130 million people to the brink of starvation, bringing the global total of those facing extreme hunger to 265 million.