Pakistan, which is facing its worst locust attack in decades, has declared national emergency to tackle the insects destroying crops on a large scale in Punjab province, country's main region for agricultural production.
The decision was taken at a meeting convened by Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday. The meeting, attended by federal ministers and senior officials of the four provinces, also approved a National Action Plan (NAP) that requires a sum of ₹7.3 billion to overcome the crisis.
Minister for National Food Security Khusro Bakhtiar informed the National Assembly about the gravity of the situation and the steps so far taken by the federal and provincial governments to deal with the crisis, the Dawn newspaper reported.
During the meeting at the Prime Minister's Office, which was also attended by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Hafeez Shaikh among others, a detailed briefing on the overall situation was given to the prime minister.
The meeting was informed that besides involving the officials concerned at the provincial and district levels, different tasks have been given to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), provincial disaster management authorities and federal and provincial departments to deal with the threat.
Prime Minister Khan ordered formation of a high-level committee to be headed by Bakhtiar to take decisions at the federal level for the elimination of insects.
The prime minister directed the authorities concerned to make immediate measures on the basis of damage of ripened crops.
"Protection of farms and farmers is the highest priority of the government. Therefore, the federal government should take all necessary steps to save national crops and provide required resources to the quarters concerned," Khan was quoted as saying in the report.
Bakhtiar informed the house that it was for the first time that after attacking Sindh and Punjab, the swarms of locust had entered Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
"A sum of ₹7.3 bn is required to avoid further destruction," he said.
"Declaration of national emergency was eminent to handle the situation; besides, Parliament must have a role in monitoring the situation," he added.
Bakhtiar claimed that the government had managed to save cotton and winter crops to a large extent, adding that climate change was one of the reasons for delay in the exit of locusts. He said the situation was worse than the one Pakistan faced in 1993.
The swarms of locust are currently on the Pakistan-India border along Cholistan, the minister said, adding that insects had entered Cholistan and Nara from Sindh and Balochistan.
Locusts used to move to Iran after sometime, but perhaps this time due to low temperatures they are still in Pakistan, he said.
Nawab Yousuf Talpur of Pakistan Peoples Party said that in 1993 when locusts had attacked the country, the situation had been handled in four days with limited resources, the report said.