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Bad to worse: Looming locust attack amid coronavirus panic

A swarm of desert locusts flies over a ranch near the town of Nanyuki in Laikipia county, Kenya, February 21, 2020 Reuters

Locust swarms are infamous for feeding on agricultural crops, trees, and other plants

Bangladesh’s response to natural disasters may be tested yet again amid the coronavirus crisis as a massive stream of desert locusts may be heading towards Bangladesh and India passing over the Indian Ocean.

Bangladesh is already reeling with the ever increasing number of coronavirus infections and deaths. This possible attack from the crop destroying insects may worsen the situation further.

Citing top officials of the Indian Government, the Hindu, a leading newspaper of India, said a locust stream passing over the Indian Ocean may attack farms in peninsular India, and then head towards Bangladesh.

Another stream might travel over a land corridor passing over Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and India, impacting farmlands in Punjab, Haryana, and the Indo-Gangetic Plain, it said.

“This can cause a serious food security issue,” The Hindu said quoting the Indian official.

Bangladesh saw a limited scale destruction by a horde of unknown insects in Cox’s Bazar recently.

A few days ago, a horde of unknown insects devoured the trees of an abandoned farm house in Cox’s Bazar’s Teknaf upazila, leaving no leaves on the trees.

Md Abul Kashem, deputy director of Cox’s Bazar Agricultural Extension office, told Dhaka Tribune that they have never seen this kind of insect before.

Kashem said: “The insects have some similarities with grasshoppers but are smaller in size. We took some photos and videos of the insects and sent them to our head office in Dhaka and the Entomology Department of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University.

“The insect horde was confined in an abandoned house and we destroyed them by spraying insecticide. They had no wings, their bodies were soft, and they burst with a sharp sound when we sprayed insecticide,” he informed.

“But the insect is very destructive. There were no leaves left on the trees. It is still unknown how they got here,” Kashem added.

Dr Md Ruhul Amin, professor of the Department of Entomology at BSMRAU, said: “I have seen the photographs and the video sent from Cox’s Bazar. The insect looks like a locust in the nymphal stage. Wings are yet to be grown but they may fully come out after the nymphal stage. But it is difficult to say exactly what it is without observing it physically.

“It is possible they were passing an ocean with a stream of locusts. Sometimes they fly and sometimes they may be carried by the wind before becoming an adult, regardless of the wingspan,” he added.

However, Dr Md Abdul Muyeed, director general of the Department of Agricultural Extension, said: “The insects seen in Teknaf are a kind of grasshopper, but not locust. But we are writing to the Entomology Department of Bangladesh Rice Research Institute to identify what kind of insect it is.”

“We will collect more information on the matter based on the report published by the Hindu.” he added.

“Locusts are very destructive. They eat all the crops on their way,” commented Muyeed.

Regions in danger

As per the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations Locust Watch update of April 21, desert locust swarms are damaging crops in African countries at an alarming rate.

Meanwhile, their breeding continues in several countries of the Arabian Peninsula, including Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Oman, and UAE, causing hopper or non-flying nymphal bands to form that could lead to swarms.

It also talked about the situation in Southwest Asia saying there are hopper groups and bands in the Indus Valley and Punjab and limited breeding near the Indian border.

Locust swarms will gravely heighten the threat to food security in the Afro-Asian region, warned FAO.

According to Indian media outlets, some Indian states have been affected by desert locusts, which is a bad omen for neighbouring Bangladesh.

Prof Ruhul Amin said: “If the locust stream reaches India, it will definitely come to Bangladesh.

“Some newly introduced foreign trees may be the reason behind the attraction of locust to the country,” he added.

How destructive is a locust swarm?

Locust swarms—potentially containing hundreds of millions of individual desert locusts—can move up to 150 kilometres a day, while devastating rural livelihoods in their relentless drive to eat and reproduce, according to FAO.

The size of a locust swarm can range from less than one square kilometre to several hundred square kilometres.

The destructive power of a typical locust swarm is enormous. A one square kilometre swarm, containing about 40 million locusts, can eat as much food as 35,000 people consume in a day, assuming that each individual consumes 2.3 kg of food per day.

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