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‘Badly-timed, serious infestation’: Official on locust attack

With a locust outbreak ravaging parts of western India, a Union Environment Ministry official said on Tuesday that it was a very badly-timed “serious infestation” that has occurred when the country is already in the middle of a pandemic.

“Locusts are a regular feature in the country but this attack is huge. It is a once-in-a-three-decade situation and timed very badly for us as we are already dealing with coronavirus,” Soumitra Dasgupta, Inspector General, Wildlife, Ministry of Environment, told news agency PTI.

The locusts are currently active in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Rajasthan is currently the worst-affected state, according to the Union Environment ministry.

Experts warn that if wind patterns change, the locusts currently headed to Dausa and Karauli districts in Rajasthan may tilt direction towards Delhi. Swarms of the crop destroying insects entered India on April 11. On Monday, parts of Jaipur were overrun by locusts.

Scientists at the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) said that the wind patterns have been unpredictable this year on account of the western disturbances over northern India. “At present, the winds in Delhi are blowing from Rajasthan side. This means that the locust attack could hit Delhi. (However) from May 28, the wind pattern might change to easterly,” said Kuldeep Srivastava, head of IMD’s regional weather forecasting centre.

Many agriculturists and government officials say that the locusts have changed their pattern and the size of their swarms has increased over the years.

“Yesterday night, we have destroyed a swarm of about 6 KM in length and 1 KM in breadth. Locusts have changed their nature and they are flying on heights more than they used to fly. It is becoming difficult for us to control. Still, we are doing our best to control the situation,” said BR Kadwa, deputy director of the agriculture department.

Locust swarms have been recorded in the Arabian peninsula and some African countries since biblical times, but unusual weather patterns exacerbated by climate change have created ideal conditions for insect numbers to surge, scientists say.

These warms have infested 23 countries across East Africa, the Middle East and South Asia in 2020, the biggest outbreak in 70 years, the World Bank said. Last week, the bank approved a record $500 million in grants and low-interest loans to help countries in Africa and the Middle East fight swarms of desert locusts.

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