India battles heatwave, locusts and pandemic
Virus heightens heatwave health risks, UN warns
NEW DELHI, May 27: Locusts, a global pandemic, ravaging cyclone, a deadly heatwave and raging forest fires have all but crushed India's efforts to get back on track at a time when it is dealing with its worst economic crisis since Independence.
India is wilting under a heatwave, with temperatures in places reaching 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) and the capital enduring its hottest May day in nearly two decades.
Scorching weather is a growing menace in the world's second-most populous nation, and the United Nations warned this week that the coronavirus pandemic increased the associated health risks.
Indian meteorological officials said Churu in the northern state of Rajasthan was the hottest place on record on Tuesday, at 50 Celsius, while parts of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh states sweltered in the high 40s. No deaths have been reported so far this year, but last year the government said the heat had killed 3,500 people since 2015. There have been fewer fatalities in recent years.
The UN's weather agency, the World Meteorological Organization, on Tuesday urged governments to make plans to keep people safe during heatwaves without spreading the virus. "We're currently experiencing one of the hottest years on record," WMO spokeswoman Clare Nullis Kapp told a virtual briefing in Geneva. "COVID-19 amplifies the health risks of hot weather for many people, and it complicates the task of managing it."
The heatwave and coronavirus are not the challenges facing India. Last week, Cyclone Amphan killed more than 100 people as it ravaged eastern India and Bangladesh, flattening villages, destroying farms and leaving millions without power.
Huge swarms of desert locusts, meanwhile, have destroyed nearly 50,000 hectares (125,000 acres) of crops across western and central India, and may enter Delhi in the coming days. The northeastern states of Assam and Meghalaya are also currently experiencing floods, with more heavy rainfall forecast in the coming days.
Desert locusts have engulfed around 35,000 hectares in India's seven heartland states, threatening some vegetable and pulse crops, government officials and farm experts said.
Despite large-scale infestations, the government and agricultural experts do not foresee major crop damage for now as it is the lean season - the gap between the previous harvest and the next planting season.
But experts warn that the federal and state governments will have to stop locusts in their tracks in the next couple of weeks to ensure that swarms do not end up devouring summer crops.
"Despite the unprecedented scale of the locust attack, we haven't seen any major crop loss, but we've got a very short window to tackle the problem. Otherwise, we won't be able to save our summer crops," said Bhagirath Choudhary, director of the South Asia Biotech Centre, a non-profit scientific society.
India is battling its worst desert locust outbreak in decades with infestations radiating through much of the western states of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, central state of Madhya Pradesh and Punjab, and Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in the north. -REUTERS