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Locusts may reinvade Thar, Cholistan: minister

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Amin Ahmed

ISLAMABAD: The swarms of desert locust, which moved to summer breeding areas along both sides of the India-Pakistan border, would re-enter Pakistan via Rajasthan and concentrate in Punjab and Sindh during the upcoming monsoon rains, Minister for National Food Security and Research Syed Fakhr Imam said on Friday.

The desert locust population will enter the Cholistan area as these have already entered the areas of Tharparkar and Nara, he said.

This would be the second threat of invasion by the swarms as this year the situation aggravated for the first time in many decades. The desert locust would resurface in Balochistan when the swarms would enter the province via Sistan-Baluchestan of Iran. A total of 33 districts in Balochistan had been affected by the desert locust, the minister said.

Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, in its desert locust bulletin issued on Friday, forecasts that adult groups and swarms would form in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and move to Cholistan, while the last spring-bred groups and swarms from Balochistan will move to Nara and Tharparkar.

As monsoon rains commence, breeding would increase along the India-Pakistan border between Bahawalpur and Nagarparkar, causing numerous hopper bands to form. This is expected to be supplemented by other swarms arriving from the horn of Africa in about mid-July and thereafter, the report says.

Terms situation in KP and most of Punjab satisfactory

About the situation, the FAO says spring breeding during June ended in Balochistan and only immature and mature groups of adults remained near the coast and in interior areas between Pasni and Dalbandin. Immature swarms were seen near Khuzdar and Quetta.

Breeding also declined in the Indus Valley of Sindh and further north on the Punjab plains where only a few hopper bands remained. More hopper bands formed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa north of Dera Ismail Khan where the swarms started to form at the end of the month.

Spring-bred immature adult groups and swarms moved Balochistan and the Indus Valley to the India-Pakistan border where an increasing number of immature adult groups and swarms arrived in Tharparkar, Nara and Cholistan deserts, many of which continued to India due to dry conditions.

During a weekly media briefing at the National Locust Control Centre, Mr Imam said the situation in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa was by and large satisfactory as the damaging situation was no more visible.

The minister stated that a survey had been carried out in all the affected areas, and according to latest figures, the survey of 3,85,000 square kilometres had been completed, out of which 9274 kilometres of the area had been cleared from locusts.

Mr Imam listed a number of measures that were being taken to address the second round of attack by desert locust. These include mapping of the affected areas, ground sprays and aerial sprays.

Besides the government funding, the World Bank would also provide financial assistance to speed up the desert locust control programme. The Central Develop­ment Working Party of the Planning Commission was expected to take up the Rs26 billion project of the national food security ministry, which would be launched with the World Bank assistance.

Mr Imam said that aerial spray had already been started in the affected districts of Balochistan. The army had given five helicopters which had been realigned for use of aerial sprays. He said the ministry’s plant protection department was being restructured and it would have at least 20 aircraft and helicopters for use to control the desert locusts.

Mr Imam later chaired a weekly meeting of the National Locust Control Centre, where director general of the Pakistan Meteorological Department said premature adult locusts were seen in 26 districts of Balochistan. He stressed that there was an urgent need for deployment of teams in Chagai, Panjgur and Gwadar since these areas were under severe threat of locust attack from Iran.

National Food Security Secretary Omer Hamid Khan briefed the meeting on the proposed ‘Locusts Emergency and Food Security Project, which will be financed both by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

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