Another unprecedented wave of locust plague is expected to hit Pakistan by the end of May 2020, posing threats of food security crisis and livelihood losses. The invasion will start from the southwestern province of Balochistan, passing through the cropping area of southern Sindh province during the migration, according to the Ministry of National Food Security and research.
Desert locusts are expected to migrate from Iran and other areas to the summer breeding regions in Sindh, as well as eastern Punjab provinces, the ministry added, noting that it will be difficult to contain the movement of the insects but measures will be taken.
"Slowly and gradually, these locusts are eating away at everything in cultivated lands. Now, they are moving towards other fields in nearby villages," said a farmer named Maulvi Satar Baloch. Other residents of Garang in Washuk district, said desert locusts are growing day by day in the area.
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned of a potentially serious food security crisis and major livelihood losses unless prompt action is taken to contain the insects breeding in parts of Balochistan, Sindh, and Punjab.
In response to the threat, the Pakistani government announced a national emergency in February and a national action plan, in collaboration with the affected provinces.
The ministry said in a statement that agencies like the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and provincial agricultural departments are working together for the purpose of survey and control. Military units are also sent for support.
Survey reports are done regularly with FAO for acquiring technical support. "In southwest Asia, hopper groups and bands are present in southern Iran and in Pakistan where substantive control operations continue," FAO stated.
"Adult groups and small swarms from breeding in Balochistan, the Indus Valley, and Punjab in Pakistan will move to desert areas along both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border from now onwards."
"This is expected to be supplemented by several waves of swarms coming from the spring breeding areas during June."
Strong measures have been taken to assess the land areas in all the provinces, with a total of 153 665 square km (59 553 square miles) surveyed so far.
Second generation swarm
This second generation swarm is even bigger and more threatening.
This is known as the second generation of the pests, meaning the first swarm reproduced. This second generation is younger and more aggressive than the first.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), left unchecked, locusts swarms multiply by a factor of 20 per generation.
Practically, that means there are probably trillions of locusts in the current swarm. They also estimate that this swarm is 400 times stronger than the first.
Governments and the U.N. have warned that the locust will cause major food shortage in the region. In its latest locust watch update, the U.N. said the situation was “extremely alarming” as an increasing number of new swarms form in north and central Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.
There are currently 18 swarms in Kenya. Regional governments have asked for financial aid to fight the swarms, but it is low priority due to the current health crisis and lockdown.
The swarms are near impossible to manage, especially without proper gear. As Ambroke Ngetich, FAO Project Officer in Kenya, told the BBC: “Every time you are trying to control in one region, there is another swarm that is happening in a different region and it is not possible to control them simultaneously.”
Thousands of gallons of pesticides missing
Tens of thousands of liters of pesticides haven’t been able to reach the region, as the pandemic closed international borders and disrupted the supply chain. Masses of adequate protective gear, to be used while spraying the pesticides, have also not made it to the region.
Even if the materials were able to be delivered, however, it could be too late. Current solutions have not and will not work, the FAO warns local countries, as the sizes of the swarms are too big for aerial spraying. Further, current spraying practices don’t kill everything, leaving bugs in the ground.
An absolutely unmitigated disaster
The locusts present “an extremely alarming and unprecedented threat” to food security and livelihoods, according to the U.N.
David Hughes from the U.N.’s FAO, told the BBC that the swarms “threaten the food of 23 million people. It is the number one food security issue in East Africa at the moment.”
And, he explains, “when you add on top of it, cyclones or whatever else we’ll have in the next 2-3 months… it’s an absolutely unmitigated disaster.”
The FAO warns that it will be too late to stop the locusts from spreading in less than six months, which would threaten millions with starvation.
Thus far, the winds have kept the swarm in northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia, which contains lots of open land unused by farmers. But with tens of millions in the region already dependent on food aid, this could turn into a humanitarian crisis quickly.
“The current situation in East Africa remains extremely alarming as more swarms form and mature in northern and central Kenya and southern Ethiopia. This represents an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods because it coincides with the early beginning of the long rains and the current growing season,” warns desert locust situation update report by FAO.
Entire East Africa region under threat
The swarm threatens the entire East Africa region, not just Kenya.
In February, eight east African countries experienced the worst outbreak in 70 years.
Yemen and east Africa are roughly 152 miles apart, separated just by the Gulf of Aden. Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda were worst hit by the swarms.
All of this happens as the Lake Victoria Basin countries of Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania have experienced abnormally heavy rainfall since October 2019, which has effectively caused flooding, which also threatens food supply.
The East African Community (EAC) secretariat will set aside emergency funds to turn tides against floods and locusts, a new report by ReliefWeb indicates.