Locust Plague 2020- Yet Another Consequence of Climate Change

Nature is not stopping. Indicating that it had probably reached a tipping point after which we all are just witnessing a Domino effect in play.

In the middle of the Pandemic, struck by the worst economic crisis and caged by the lockdowns, we can not afford for things to go worse. The poor of our country are already suffering beyond comprehension with people losing jobs, migrant laborers struggling to go home and farmers finding it hard to harvest and sell their produce.

Then comes another series of devastation- cyclone Amphan (which by the way is also a result of climate change, as rapidly warming oceans are intensifying such storms). Again, leaving our poor in misery and in tremendous loss.

Now, we have another monster coming up to haunt us.

The Locust Plague

Locusts flying over the vegetation. Picture by theprint.in

Let us know about Locust, Locust Plague and what is happening right now.

What are Locusts?
Locust is an insect that belongs to the family of grasshoppers which are usually harmless.

When do they become not-so-harmless?
When these locusts meet suitable environmental conditions (warm and wet), they become gregarious and start breeding abundantly. Their numbers increase so much that a swarm of locusts can contain as many as 80 million locusts.

So what do they do after forming an army?
Locusts have an insatiable appetite. They form swarms and attack crops.

Should they be taken seriously?
Yes. They are the world’s most destructive migratory pest, can travel up to 90 miles a day, form 80 million-strong swarms and eat the same amount in vegetation as what large cities eat every day. They have the full potential of devastating the entire agricultural economy of countries.
Locusts have formed plagues since pre-historic times. The ancient Egyptians carved them on their tombs and the insects are mentioned in the Bible and the Quran. Swarms have devastated crops and been a contributory cause of famines and human migrations.

So how have we tackled them till now?
Since the 20th century, because of the changes in agricultural practices and better surveillance of locations where swarms tend to originate, we have been able to put control measures at an early stage.
Several organizations around the world monitor the threat from locusts. They provide forecasts detailing regions likely to suffer from locust plagues in the near future. Countries have been using various biological and chemical methods (pesticides) to control locust populations.

What is happening right now?

Experts say that the world is facing one of the worst locust situations in decades and will give a heavy blow to agriculture. In February, eight east African countries experienced the worst outbreak in 70 years. The insects have threatened the food security of 25 million people across the region. In Djibouti (a country in Eastern Africa), a few weeks ago, it is estimated that over 1,700 agro-pastoral farms across the country and nearly 50,000 hectares of pastureland have been destroyed by the swarms.

The scale of the locust outbreak, which has affected seven East African countries (and reached other nations like Iran and Pakistan too), is like nothing in recent memory. City-sized swarms of the dreaded pests are wreaking havoc as they descend on crops and pasture-lands, destroying everything in a matter of hours.

What about India?
After devastating Iran and Pakistan, the locust swarm has entered India– Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, and Madhya Pradesh. It is majorly threatening the standing cotton crops and vegetables.

India has been hit by locust plague several times between 1812 to 1997 but has not seen any locust upsurges since December 2011. But this year the situation would be worse. Amidst Covid-19 pandemic, dwindling economy, and lockdown, damage to our agriculture on this scale could be disastrous. In favorable conditions, a locust swarm could cover an area from less than one square kilometer to several hundred square kilometers and moving ahead rapidly in search of more, when their food supply (all the vegetation that comes there way) gets over.

Considering the seriousness of the situation, India has already proposed a coordinated response to locust control to Iran and Pakistan. While Iran has given a positive response in accepting India’s supply of malathion and helping with other pest control operations, Pakistan hasn’t (till now). Our states are also prepping up and adopting various means for controlling the swarms. But no matter what, a certain degree of destruction is inevitable.

How are these insects related to Climate Change?

Locust plague on the move. Picture by India.com

The countless human activities that have given rise to Climate Change has disrupted the sensitive ecosystem of our planet. Everything in our world is interrelated and any disturbance made at one point can create ripples affecting many phenomena. The one at play here is the ocean circulation pattern which is now misbehaving due to rapid warming up of the oceans—triggering a weird confluence of events for the whole world to behold.

To understand this in a fairly simple manner, here is what happened-

  • Desert locusts are usually restricted to the arid deserts of Africa that receive less than 200 mm of rain annually.
  • In normal conditions, locust numbers decrease either by natural mortality or through migration.
  • But the last five years have been hotter than any other and studies have linked a hotter climate to more damaging locust swarms
  • And a prolonged bout of exceptionally wet weather, including several rare cyclones that struck eastern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula over the last 18 months, is responsible for creating the perfect breeding grounds for Locusts.
    Here you can see visually the series of weather events that occurred in the region-
RILEY D. CHAMPINE NG STAFF; SOURCES: FAO/DLIS; NCAR. Picture taken from the National Geographic

These abnormal rains, cyclones, extreme weather conditions were caused by the Indian Ocean dipole, a phenomenon accentuated by climate change. This sudden change in the ocean climate has also been linked to the devastating Australian bushfires.

And yet again nature has made us realize that we all are connected. Doesn’t matter if we are living in different countries or even continents, everything on this planet functions in harmony. No person, no country, no region is in isolation but a very part of this system, which has to be taken care of together.

No matter how much we try to deny climate change and pretend that humans are causing no damage to the planet, we can not escape reality. Nature will keep knocking our doors with disasters and the only ones who would be left suffering ultimately will be humans.

Remember- The earth will thrive without humans, but we can not live anywhere but here. It’s high time we stop fooling ourselves and start acting and behaving in a manner less destructive to the planet!

Sources- wikipedia.org, the guardian, unenvironment.org, nationalgeographic.com, India.com, theweek.in, worldbank.org

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