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Explained: What is the locust attack destroying crops in several countries?

Pakistan and Somalia have recently declared locust emergencies. In India, Rajasthan and Gujarat have been grappling with the pest problem.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: February 3, 2020 4:59:03 pm
locust attack, locust attack in africa, locust attack in india, what are locusts, indian express, indian express explained Swarms of desert locusts fly in Kitui county, Kenya. A small swarm of locusts covering one square kilometre can consume the same amount of food in a day as 35,000 people. (Photo: AP)

Over the weekend, Pakistan and Somalia have declared locust emergencies. During the past few weeks, major locust attacks have been observed in several countries in western and southern Asia and in eastern Africa.

In India, locusts attacks emanating from the desert area in Pakistan have struck parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, causing heavy damage to standing crop.

Which countries are affected by the global crisis?

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations has currently identified three hotspots of threatening locust activity, where the situation has been called “extremely alarming” — the Horn of Africa, the Red Sea area, and southwest Asia.

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The Horn of Africa has been called the worst-affected area, where the FAO has said there is “an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods”. Locust swarms from Ethiopia and Somalia have travelled south to Kenya and 14 other countries in the continent. Ethiopia’s Rift Valley has also been hit by the pest.

The outbreak is the worst to strike Ethiopia and Somalia in 25 years, and the worst infestation in Kenya in the past 70 years. Without international help, the FAO has said that locust numbers across the region could grow 500 times by June.

In the Red Sea area, locusts have struck in Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Yemen. The swarms are presumed to have arrived here from the Indo-Pakistan border area.

In southwest Asia, locusts swarms have caused damage in Iran, India, and Pakistan.

What are locusts, and how do they inflict damage?

Locusts are a group of short-horned grasshoppers that multiply in numbers as they migrate long distances in destructive swarms (up to 150km in one day).

The swarms devour leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, bark and growing points, and also destroy plants by their sheer weight as they descend on them in massive numbers.

Four species of locusts are found in India: Desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria), Migratory locust (Locusta migratoria), Bombay Locust (Nomadacris succincta) and Tree locust (Anacridium sp.).

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The desert locust is regarded as the most destructive pest in India as well as internationally, with a small swarm covering one square kilometre being able to consume the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people.

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