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Desert locust infestations from E Africa could move to India, Pak next month: FAO official

PTI | New York | Updated: 22-05-2020 12:13 IST | Created: 22-05-2020 11:08 IST
Desert locust infestations from E Africa could move to India, Pak next month: FAO official
Representative Image Image Credit: www.fao.org

The desert locust invasion, which poses a significant threat to the livelihoods and food security, is expected to move from East Africa to India and Pakistan next month and could be accompanied by other swarms, a top official of the UN's food and the agricultural agency has warned. The desert locust is considered the most destructive migratory pest in the world and a single swarm covering one square kilometer can contain up to 80 million locusts.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO's) Senior Locust Forecasting Officer Keith Cressman said: "Everybody knows we're facing one of the worst desert locust situations that we've probably had in a number of decades". "It's obviously being focused at the moment on East Africa, where it's extremely vulnerable in terms of livelihoods and food security but now in the next month or so it will expand to other areas and will move (towards)…West Africa.

"And it will move across the Indian Ocean to India and Pakistan," Cressman said during a virtual briefing on Thursday on the FAO Desert Locust Appeal amid the new threat to Southwest Asia and Africa's Sahel region. Currently, the locust invasion is most serious in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, southern Iran, and in parts of Pakistan, and starting in June, it will move from Kenya to throughout Ethiopia, as well as to Sudan and perhaps West Africa.

"The infestations in southern Iran, and in southwest Pakistan, they will move to India and Pakistan on the border areas. And those infestations in India and Pakistan could be supplemented by other swarms coming from East Africa, Northern Somalia," he said. On what the UN is doing to help these countries as they face the locust invasion, Cressman said the FAO is working with the nations to upscale and intensify their monitoring and control operations.

He said the agency has fielded expertise that the countries may not have themselves as well as logisticians and brought in aircraft to help them with the aerial control operations, which is what is really needed in order to bring the locust numbers down. The FAO has also made an appeal to the international community for about USD 153 million to fund these increased operations.

"We're focusing on Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, and we have been focusing on those countries now since the beginning of the year, but the focus now will be extending to Yemen, Iran, Pakistan, and if need be to West Africa," the official said. The FAO's Desert Locust appeal, launched in January, now covers 10 countries - Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, and Yemen.

The current upsurge is particularly alarming in the broader Eastern Africa region, with recently released forecasts from the Global Report on Food Crises indicating that over 25 million people will face acute food insecurity in the region in the second half of 2020. In Yemen, where locusts have been reproducing in hard-to-access inland areas, an additional 17 million people are acutely food insecure.

But those estimates were made before the impact of COVID-19 in a region of acute food insecurity. India has proposed to Pakistan and Iran for a coordinated approach in dealing with the alarming threat of fast-increasing desert locusts in the region, official sources said on Thursday.

However, Pakistan is yet to respond to India's proposal while Iran communicated its readiness for a joint approach to contain the desert locusts. Officials in Jaipur said this week that locust outbreaks may affect more Rajasthan districts adjoining Pakistan this year as compared to the previous one.

The Rajasthan government has made an emergency plan to deal with it and preparations are being made to spray insecticides from drones in remote inaccessible areas for effective control measures, they said. State Agriculture Minister Lalchand Kataria on Monday reviewed locust control, Kharif procurement process, and Prime Minister's Crop Insurance Scheme with officials.


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