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February 21, 2020

Locust menace

Editorial

 
February 21, 2020

The locust has been in the news since last year but the government response to this issue has been inadequate and slow. It was during last June and July that huge swarms of locusts crossed into Pakistan from Iran. First they attacked crops in various districts of Balochistan and then within a couple of months entered Sindh where they targeted the cotton crop. Then they moved upward to southern Punjab through the Cholistan desert. All this region is rich in cultivation and a lot depends on the successful harvest of various crops. Just the cotton crop contributes to around 50 percent of our exports, both directly and indirectly. Pakistani exports coming from cotton and cotton products amount to nearly $12 billion annually out of a total of $25 billion. Thus the locust is not only an environmental issue; it can be an economic disaster if left uncontrolled.

Since this is the worst locust swarm invading Pakistan in 25 years, appropriate measures to control it should have been in place much earlier. According to reports, the swarm was on its way for months – originating in East Africa then travelling to Yemen, where due to the civil war they could not control or stop it. From there the swarm flew through the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula into Iran and then to Pakistan. With each passing country, the swarm redoubled its numbers and strength. All this shows that it was not an overnight attack on Pakistan. Better coordination and a vigilant approach could have prepared Pakistan. But no timely action was taken, resulting in thousands of acres of crops being destroyed by the locust in Balochistan first.

Then from Sindh, the local media kept highlighting the issue but somehow the mainstream media is so immersed in politics that they hardly devote any coverage to such important issues. Now finally India and Pakistan are reported to have held some meetings to gauge the damage and prevent further loss of crops on both sides of the border. There is a major lesson in this. Since locusts affect around 30 countries from Africa to Asia, a better mechanism is needed to consult and inform each other. With the swarm now entering India, we may heave a sigh of relief but that we are doing after a lot of damage has already been done.