NEW DELHI – A mile-long cloud of grasshoppers raved India’s capital region Flying through subway stations and playgrounds over the weekend, entering sugar cane fields and facing huge losses to the agricultural sector, at a time when coronavirus restrictions have already caused millions of jobs to be lost.
For weeks, Indian officials have struggled to contain the country’s worst grasshopper invasion in decades as insects migrate from western regions to the New Delhi region and further east to Nepal despite efforts to water plants with pesticides and kill swarms with drones. More than half a dozen Indian countries are affected.
In a year punctuated by hurricanes, heat waves, growing coronavirus infections, and overwhelmed hospitals, scientists warn that the grasshoppers could put agricultural parts of India on the brink of disaster, seriously disrupt food supplies, and generate revenue for millions of farmers in Could reduce difficulties.
Hari Chand Sharma, a well-known Indian entomologist and agricultural scientist, said the number of grasshoppers in the country could exceed a trillion if the spread were not controlled. He accused foreign nations of not having done more to prevent the insects from crossing large parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East this year.
“There have been few containment measures,” he said, noting that India had weathered about 20 swarms of locusts this year, about ten times the average. He said that coronavirus restrictions may have played a role in inaction, but that governments have been careless in the past.
India’s locust problem began when millions of insects from Pakistan and Iran flew in a few months ago. Scientists say that unusually warm water in the Indian Ocean triggered heavy rains over East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, created ideal conditions for desert locusts and led to serious infestations in countries such as Kenya and Somalia.
In India, after hungry swarms hit the state of Rajasthan, officials installed pesticide sprayers on hundreds of tractors to save farms. In a single day, a humble swarm can eat up to 35,000 people and travel more than 100 miles.
Strong winds in the past few weeks have blown the grasshoppers further into India and spread the insects across the northern plains. For several hours on Saturday, thick swarms darkened the sky over the outskirts of New Delhi and in Gurugram, a neighboring town.
Local officials put the capital region on “high alert”. The residents lit fireworks, smashed kitchen utensils and shone music from their balconies to drive away the grasshoppers. The Times of India, a leading newspaper, called the attack “Swarm don. ”
“The sky was almost invisible,” said Madhusudan Satija, who was in front of his house in Gurugram when the swarm passed. “It was so terrible. They stuck to the building wall like a thick layer of wet mud. “
The initial damage assessments were modest. Officials in the state of Haryana, which includes Gurugram, said only a few thousand acres of crops had been damaged.
But shortly before the new planting season, farmers fear that more than 200 million acres of rice, sugar cane, cotton and soybeans could be decimated. In parts of Rajasthan, more than 60 percent of the crops were damaged, and a government aid package covered only a small portion of the farmers. according to local news agencies.
The corona virus has made complicated efforts to stop the grasshoppers. With confirmed infections of more than 500,000 across the country and many cities that are still partially blocked, officials have sought to keep supply chains open and implement grasshopper control measures across national borders.
Opposition politicians have made the mistakes and accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of negligence.
Randeep Surjewala, a spokesman for the opposition Indian National Congress Party, said Insurance companies refused to compensate farmers for their losses because the central government had not classified swarms of locusts as natural disasters.
Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a minister in Mr. Modi’s cabinet, shot back at the weekend and chastised Congress to use the locust crisis to “Turn catastrophe into anarchy. ”
“In the event of a disaster, locusts and losers are tormented, and both should be dealt with emphatically,” he said.
Given the upcoming monsoon season, entomologist Dr. Sharma that the next few months would be critical. As heavy rains nourish the ground and the grasshoppers begin to breed, officials must act aggressively against the insects. Even then, their efforts may not be enough.
“They feed on practically everything,” said Dr. Sharma. “First they eat leaves and then fruit bodies such as corn, seeds, parts of legumes, flowers, young fruits. If they persist, they will damage future lens crops in Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. “
“When swarms attack, there are no harvests left,” he added.