China at Risk of Locust Invasion if Overseas Plagues Persist, Officials Warn

China may be at risk of a locust invasion from neighboring countries India and Pakistan, officials have warned.

According to China's National Forest and Grassland Administration, the possibility remains "relatively small" and the risk to China's forest and grass resources is "low"—but desert locusts could cause a problem if plagues in neighboring countries persist.

There are various entry points for the locusts to reach China, including Tibet, which shares a border with India. Other routes include through the province of Yunnan in southwestern China, which borders Myanmar, and the country's Xinjiang region, in the northeast, via Kazakhstan.

There is also a concern that a locust swarm could arrive in summer from Pakistan, which is currently facing its worst outbreak in years, if conditions there do not improve.

"It is extremely unlikely that desert locusts will directly migrate into China's inland areas, but if the overseas desert locust plague persists, the probability of locusts entering China in June or July will sharply increase," said Zhang Zehua, a researcher at the Institute of Plant Protection of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, China Daily reports.

"Our current locust prevention and treatment system is capable of controlling the possible invasion to China," he added. "But real-time monitoring, sufficient pharmaceuticals and pesticide application equipment as well as trained staff and cross-region coordination by the central government should be placed in advance."

In response to the threat, the State Forestry and Grass Bureau has issued emergency notices to regional departments, requesting they introduce monitoring stations at points along possible migration paths, so the movement of desert locusts can be tracked in real time. There is also a call to stock "key provinces and regions" with the chemicals and technology needed to help control locust outbreaks.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences said scientists are currently using satellite and meteorological data to monitor the situation, state-run press agency Xinhua reports.

According to Reuters, precautionary measures are being taken at Khunjerab, a mountain pass between northern Pakistan and southwest China, where officials are monitoring a 1.2 mile area for locusts. Vehicles and goods entering China via Khunjerab will be inspected for locusts and locust eggs, and possibly sterilized.

Officials have also said they will send "a comprehensive emergency assistance package" to Pakistan in order to combat swarms in the region, Xinhua reports.

Last month, Pakistan declared a national emergency in response to the worst locust swarms to hit the country since the 1990s. Swarms were triggered by favorable weather conditions and slow government response, Daily Pakistan reported.

It is feared the insects could cause problems with food security. Locust swarms have already caused large-scale devastation to several crops in Pakistan, including cotton, wheat and maize.

Indian authorities are preparing for potential outbreak in regions that share a border with Pakistan, with drones and specialist equipment to monitor insects' movements, Reuters reports. This follows outbreaks in the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat earlier this year, when swarms crossed the Indian-Pakistan border. It appears to have been contained—though the threat of a second outbreak remains.

Severe locust swarms in Pakistan and elsewhere appear to have been triggered by heavy rains brought by cyclones, which saw populations mushroom in breeding grounds around the Red Sea in the winter of 2018 and 2019.

The outbreak has affected areas in South Asia and the Middle East and has extended deep into the East Africa, reaching the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for the first time since 1944. The United Nations (UN) says more funding is desperately needed to stem the crisis and prevent a food crisis.

Last week, locusts reached the eastern boundaries of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for the first time since 1944. The United Nations (UN) says more funding is desperately needed to stem the crisis and prevent a food crisis.

"This is a scourge of biblical proportions," read a statement from the UN. "Yet as ancient as this scourge is, its scale today is unprecedented in modern times".

Farmer holds locust in field
A farmer holds a locust at a feild in the Pakistan's port city of Karachi on November 11, 2019. Chinese officials have expressed concern that locusts could enter the country from Pakistan and other neighboring countries. ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty