Pakistan proclaims national emergency following locust invasion
by Kamran Chaudhry

The insects are destroying crops in several provinces. The government allocates US$ 48 million to deal with the crisis. Local Caritas complains of delays in prevention and counteraction. The devastation has affected local producers and consumers. A minister jokingly suggests “eating locusts”.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Pakistani government declared a national emergency on 31 January to counter an invasion of desert locusts that are destroying crops in the province of Punjab, after destroying 22,000 acres (8,900 hectares) of farmland in Sindh province.

For the first time in the country's history, the insects have also gone all the way to the north, reaching the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The invasions of 1993 and 1997 had affected only Punjab and Sindh.

According to the Minister for National Food Security Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar, the locust infestation is due to climate change.

To deal with the crisis, Prime Minister Imran Khan has set up a high-level federal committee.

Federal Ministers and officials from the country's four provinces approved a 7.3 billion rupees (US$ 48 million) national action plan to eliminate locust swarms.

Manshad Asghar, Caritas executive secretary in Hyderabad, notes that local media have not published news about the affected areas and people because to avoid being unduly alarming.

However, locusts have quickly attacked "already impoverished districts which have water and food shortages," he told AsiaNews.

In 2018, Caritas offered courses on livestock management, food and fodder preservation, seed storage, crop management, soil conservation and water management in the desert districts of Nagarparkar and Tharparkar. Five thousand people took part in the training, which ended in March 2019.

Caritas Pakistan director Amjad Gulzar chaired an emergency meeting last weekend with a unit in the apostolic vicariate of Balochistan, where locusts appeared for the first time in May 2019.

“We are planning to carry out necessary preventive measures,” he said, “and play a bigger role in [raising] awareness among poor farmers.”

For the latter, “Crops and livestock are their only means of survival. The loss of seasonal crops and vegetables can result in further price hike of essential food items.”

Meanwhile, Pakistan is already facing a serious wheat crisis affecting its main cities.

Flour and bread prices shot up last month as wheat disappeared from stores and wholesale markets.

Bakers reacted by shutting down to protest government's pressure to sell their products at controlled prices.

Wheat is the staple food in Pakistan, grown on 60 per cent of the arable area.

According to Ashgar, one minister made matters worse by joking about the whole affair.

Last November, a video of Sindh's Minister of Agriculture, Ismail Rahu, went viral. In it, he suggests people eat insects: “They came here, so residents should eat them. They can be grilled on the barbecue, eaten with 'biryani'[*], roasted in a karahi,[†] or [cooked] in many other ways.”

Rahu pointed out that locusts are commonly eaten in desert areas, adding that people should not worry "because they are not harmful".

[*] A mixed rice and meat dish.

[†] A deep, wok-like cooking pot.