By Muhammad Luqman
Pakistan’s government has declared an ational emergency to eliminate the attacking swarms of desert locust which are destroying crops on a large scale in Punjab after wiping out the vegetation in southern province of Sindh.
The decision was taken at a meeting convened by Prime Minister Imran Khan at the PM Office. The meeting attended by federal ministers and senior officials of the four provinces also approved a national action plan (NAP) that requires a sum of Rs7.3 billion to overcome the crisis.
During the meeting at the PM Office, which was also attended by Federal Food Security Minister Khusro Bakhtiar and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Dr Hafeez Shaikh, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) chairman Lt Gen Mohammad Afzal, a detailed briefing on the overall situation was given to the prime minister.
The meeting was informed that besides involving the officials concerned at the provincial and district levels, different tasks have been given to the NDMA, provincial disaster management authorities and federal and provincial departments to deal with the threat.
Prime Minister Khan ordered formation of a high-level committee to be headed by Khusro Bakhtiar to take decisions at the federal level for elimination of locust swarms. The NDMA chairman was made a focal person in this regard.
The prime minister directed the authorities concerned to make immediate measures on the basis of damage of ripened crops. “Protection of farms and farmers is the highest priority of the government. Therefore, the federal government should take all necessary steps to save national crops and provide required resources to the quarters concerned,” he was quoted as saying.
The prime minister was informed that the food security ministry had four aircraft last month for spray of pesticides, but unfortunately one aircraft crashed two weeks ago in Rahim Yar Khan. The meeting decided to take some more aircraft on rent.
Farmers associations have termed the government steps as a knee-jerk reaction to the situation, demanding resignation from Punjab Agricultutre Minister and his team.
” The government’s reaction is much-delayed. Anti-locust steps should have been taken in July instead of January,” Dr. Zafar Hayyat , President of Farmers Bureau Punjab said in a statement.
Meanwhile, The Vice Chancellor of Indian Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) has written to his Pakistani counterpart at the University of Agriculture Faisalabad for remedial measures to control a locust swarm attack in Punjabs.
According to Indian news channel, NDTV, PAU Vice Chancellor Baldev Singh Dhillon in a letter to his counterpart Muhammad Ashraf sought suggestions to control the locust attack.
“As per recent reports of surveys conducted by the Locust Control Organization of India, the incursion of immature swarms/adults across the border is still continuing into India. So, I would like to know from your good self the current situation of the notorious pest in your country, Also, advice regarding the predisposing environmental/climatic factors which your university and Agriculture Department have identified,” Mr Dhillon said in the letter.
Reports on infestation of desert locust have been coming from Jaisalmer, Barmer, Bikaner, Jalore, Jodhpur, Pali, Sirohi and Sriganganagar in Rajasthan, and Banaskantha and Bhuj-Kutch of Gujarat, the Indian TV reported.
In his reply, UAF Vice Chancellor, Dr. Muhammad Ashraf said the locust attack in Pakistan was unanticipated and it was expected to subside by mid-November. He blamed climate change for breeding of locusts in Pakistan.
“I would like to share with you that prolonged monsoon season favourable climatic conditions for its multiplication at Indo-Pak border. The university administration with the local government officials are constantly monitoring and carrying out the control operations,” Mr Ashraf said in his reply.
The UN has warned that the locust plague in East African countries including Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia could trigger a humanitarian crisis.
The horde of 360 billion insects has laid waste to farmland and caused damage in Dijibouti and Eritrea, posing an unprecedented threat to food security.
As locusts by the billions descend on parts of Kenya in the worst outbreak in 70 years, small planes are flying low over affected areas to spray pesticides in what experts call the only effective control.
It is the worst to affect Ethiopia and Somalia for 25 years, and could grow 500 times bigger by June when the next generation hatches.