Swarms of locusts have hit Sindh’s Achro Thar Desert in Sanghar district, devouring newly developed grassland after three years of drought.
Locals have demanded the authorities declare an emergency and contain the locust outbreak.
“The attack started Thursday and they are proceeding further with every passing moment," Khuman Singh, a local from Jeenhar village told Samaa Digital over the phone. "They came from the north and are spreading fast towards the south. We don’t know whether they are coming from Khairpur district’s Nara Taluka or from India."
The pests have spread to two of four union councils of Achro Thar or the White Desert in Sanghar’s Khipro Taluka, where most of the population lives with their livestock. According to locals, the locusts have moved across 50 villages of UC Ranak Dahar and UC Kamil Hingoro and currently roaming around the same areas.
“Locusts are harming the grazing land on a wider level. They are fast eating our newly grown grass after three years of a dry spell and which was vital for the fodder,” Khuman added.
During the ongoing monsoon season, Achro Thar received two spells of moderate rain in the first two weeks of August.
Ali Khan Rajar, the chairman of UC Ranak Dahar, told Samaa Digital that it was high time the authorities took control of the locusts through aerial spray.
“People are already facing severe financial conditions due to the three-year drought," he said. "If the locust-infected areas are not contained through aerial spray, it will affect the local economy and cattle.”
The last widespread locust attack was recorded in Achro Thar Desert in 1981 and was followed by aerial spray.
Last June the authorities conducted aerial spray in neighboring Khairpur district which was also affected by locusts.
Achro Thar is located at the Pakistan-India border. It is an extension of Sindh’s Thar Desert and falls in Sanghar, Khairpur, Sukkur and Ghotki districts.
Achro Thar is known as the White Desert due to the color of its white sand. Unlike the desert in Tharparkar and Umerkot districts, Achro Thar's land is infertile. That means even if there are good rains, there are no crops that can be grown in the area. The rains are beneficial only for drinking water storage and cultivation of grass used as livestock fodder.
The population of Achro Thar lives in scattered settlements. The most populous area is Sanghar’s Khipro taluka where an estimated 50,000 people live on 4,800 square kilometers.
Achro Thar desert is among the country’s leading livestock producers. There has been no fresh official animal census, however, according to private estimates it ranges between 1.5 million to two million.
Around 90 percent of Achro Thar's population is directly or indirectly linked with jobs in the livestock sector.
During the last three years, it faced one of the most severe droughts in recent history. There was an acute shortage of fodder.
As there was a massive scarcity of water, food and fodder, locals migrated to the barrage areas along with their cattle. These areas are river-water fed areas adjacent to the desert. Achro Thar inhabitants would camp in the barrage areas till there were enough rains to go back home.
“After a gap of three years Achro Thar got moderate rains which gave relief to the locals," Khuman said. "The locals were happy that finally there was an end to the drought. People who migrated along with their cattle started returning."
Zulfiqar Kunbhar is a Karachi-based multimedia environment journalist. He tweets at @ZulfiqarKunbhar. Follow SAMAA English in Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.