Parts of India are feared to be at risk of famine after being hit by a massive swarm of desert locusts.
The country has found itself fighting two plagues at once after suffering its worst invasion in almost 30 years during the coronavirus pandemic, 9news.com.au reports.
Experts worry that the pests, which have been ravaging crops since the end of April, could devastate the nation’s food supplies.
Millions of the insects flew into the northern state of Rajasthan from neighbouring Pakistan on April 30, and have since spread to five other states.
Desert locusts are highly invasive pests and multiply quickly.
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Adults can eat their body weight in 24 hours and have the ability to fly up to 150km a day.
Keith Cressman, Senior Locust Forecasting Officer for the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), says it is difficult to predict “with precision” how bad the damage will be.
However, the UN body expects swarms to continue to hit Rajasthan into July, spreading as far as Nepal and Bangladesh.
“It depends on the scale of invasion from spring breeding areas, the performance of this year’s monsoon, and the effectiveness and success of monitoring and control operations,” he said.
It comes as India also grapples with the fourth-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world.
There are now 395,000 confirmed cases of the virus, and 12,970 people have lost their lives.
Cases rose by a daily high of 14,721 yesterday, while 366 deaths were reported.
As hospitals struggle to care for infected patients, train carriages have been converted into makeshift wards.
Speaking to 9news.com.au, virologist Dr T. Jacob John says he believes the pandemic will worsen and that the Indian government and World Health Organisation (WHO) were too slow to bring in lockdown measures.
“Rural outbreaks are just beginning to take off. There was obviously misjudgment on timing, extent of lockdown,” he said.
It is also feared that pressure on health services and looming threats to food supply will mean that other diseases will spread, particularly if vaccinations stop.
It is feared that a wave of illnesses such as tuberculoses, diphtheria, measles, pneumonia and polio could follow.
“India was without the required defences when the pandemic struck” Dr John added.
India entered one of the world’s strictest lockdowns on March 24, however, measures have started to ease earlier this month.
A spike in cases has led to lockdown being re-imposed in Chennai, the country’s sixth-largest city and capital of Tamil Nadu.
Under a 12-day lockdown which will last until June 30, only essential services and food shops will be allowed to open.