COVID19 in Pakistan: Test Positivity Rate and Deaths Declining

Percentage of people in Pakistan testing positive for coronavirus is going down along with declining deaths, according to data from multiple independent sources. The effective transmission rate Rt continues to be less than one, indicating that each infected person is infecting fewer than one person, according to data from London's Imperial College. However, this is no time to relax. Pakistanis need to continue to take all precautions, including wearing face masks, to ensure that COVID19 fades out in the country.
COVID19 Effective Reproductive Rate. Source: Imperial College, London, UK

Pakistan's coronavirus transmission rate of less than 1.0 is among the lowest in its region. Neighboring India's Rt is 1.2, Iran's 1.12 and Bangladesh 1.05 are all significantly higher than Pakistan's 0.74.


Positive Test Rate Declines to 12.7% From Peak of 22.4% on June 4, 2020

Seven-day rolling average of people testing positive for COVID19 is at 12.7% now, down from 22.4% on June 4, 2020. Biweekly deaths have declined 23.57%.

Pakistan COVID19 BiWeekly Deaths Decline 23.7%


London's Imperial College estimates that COVID19 pandemic in Pakistan is "on course to fade out", a testimony to Prime Minister Imran Khan's government's effective handling of the the ongoing global health crisis.

COVID19 World Map Shows Pakistan Stable. Source: Imperial College


At just 0.74, the effective coronavirus reproduction rate (Rt) in Pakistan is among the lowest in the world. An Rt of less than 1 indicates each infected person is infecting fewer than one person.  Only Italy (0.63), Netherlands (0.62), Canada (0.50) and Spain (0.02) have lower reproduction rates than Pakistan's. However, this is no time to relax. Pakistanis need to continue to take all precautions, including wearing face masks, to ensure that COVID19 fades out in the country.

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Comments

Riaz Haq said…
#IMF predicts #economic recovery in #Pakistan next year. Measures include: Rs1.2 trillion relief package, cash transfers to 6.2 million daily wagers, fast tax refunds for #exports, financial support to #SMEs & #farmers, #construction industry incentives. https://www.dawn.com/news/1568043

A gradual recovery in Pakistan is expected in the fiscal year 2021 as the country’s economy reopens, says a report released by the Inter­natio­nal Monetary Fund (IMF).

The report — “Policy Act­ions Taken by Countries” – reviews various steps Pakis­tan has taken since March to deal with the Covid-19 crisis.

The IMF notes that the near-term economic outlook of the country has worsened notably, and growth is estimated at –0.4 per cent in FY 2020.

According to this report, since mid-April, the federal government, in coordination with the provinces, has been gradually easing lockdown arrangements, by allowing ‘low-risk industries’ to restart operation and ‘small retail shops’ to reopen with newly developed Standard Operating Procedures.


In addition, restrictions on domestic and international movements have been lifted and educational institutes are expected to restart on July 15. ‘Selective’ lockdown arrangements remain in place, through the closure of shops on weekends and the sealing of specific areas of high risk.

A relief package worth Rs1.2 trillion was annou­nced on March 24, which is now being implemented and will be pursued in the fiscal year 2020-21. The report then details various measures taken by both federal and provincial governments to ease the economic impact of this pandemic.

Key measures by the federal government: elimination of import duties on emergency health equipment; cash transfers to 6.2 million daily wage workers, cash transfers to more than 12m low-income families; accelerated tax refunds to the export industry, out of which 65pc have already been disbursed, and financial support to SMEs and the agriculture sector.

The report notes that the economic package also earmarks resources for an accelerated procurement of wheat, support for health and food supplies, an emergency contingency fund, and a transfer to the Nat­ional Disaster Management Authority for the purchase of Covid-19 related equipment.

The report also mentions the provision of tax incentives to the construction sector to address the acute employment needs generated by the lockdowns.

The provincial governments, according to this report, have been also implementing supportive fiscal measures, consisting of cash grants to the low-income households, tax relief and additional health spending.
Riaz Haq said…
#Lockdowns being reimposed in parts of #India. 30,000 new #COVID cases & 582 more deaths, bringing totals to over 936,000 cases and over 24,000 fatalities. The actual numbers are likely far higher due to limited testing. #Modi #BJP #economy #Hindutva https://ti.me/2ZvBFrL

In Bangalore, a key technology hub in southern India where offices for major tech companies like Amazon and Apple are located, the government ordered a weeklong lockdown that began Tuesday evening.

The initial boost that India’s economy received in June after the nationwide lockdown was relaxed is being halted by these localized lockdowns in high-risk areas, experts say. Economic indicators like labor participation rates and electricity consumption are down this month compared to June, according to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy, an independent think-tank.

India’s minister for small and medium businesses, Nitin Gadkari, said last week that experts were predicting a loss of $133.3 billion in the next year.
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As India’s coronavirus caseload approaches 1 million, lockdowns are being reimposed in parts of the country as governments try to shield the health system from being overwhelmed.

India on Wednesday reported nearly 30,000 new virus cases and 582 more deaths, raising its totals to more than 936,000 cases and over 24,000 fatalities. The actual numbers, like elsewhere globally, are likely far higher due to limited testing and poor surveillance, experts say.

A two-week lockdown that starts Thursday has been imposed in Bihar, an eastern state with a population of 128 million that is marred by a fragile health system. Since Saturday, Bihar has recorded over 1,000 cases each day, despite limited testing.

Nearly 2.5 million poor migrant workers who had been stranded during India’s initial lockdown of the entire country have returned to the state after they lost their jobs in large cities.

Authorities are now increasingly trying to focus their lockdowns to shield the economy from further losses, and nearly a dozen states are turning to localized clampdowns in areas where many cases have been detected. Referred to as “containment zones” by public health officials, these can be as small as a few houses on a street in New Delhi, the capital.

Jayaprakash Muliyil, an epidemiologist at Christian Medical College in southern India, warned that the country’s actual death toll from the coronavirus could be much higher due to the absence of a robust mechanism to report deaths in rural areas. “We don’t have the infrastructure,” he said.

Dr. Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute, said that with new cases accelerating, India’s strategy must focus on keeping case numbers as low as possible and saving as many lives as it could.

“The standard stuff is the standard stuff: You have got to continue testing and isolation … make sure there are few to no indoor gatherings,” he said.

Experts have pointed out that India will see multiple peaks in different parts of the country.

Jha warned that India has to ensure that it continues building on supplies and that it has enough beds for people who will need to be hospitalized in the coming days. “You can’t overprepare,” he said.
Riaz Haq said…
#Pakistan has flattened its #coronavirus curve, but officials fear upcoming holiday could lead to spike. Nobody in the government is breathing a sigh of relief with #EidAlAdha in 2 weeks. #Covid_19 https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/pakistan-coronavirus-eid-al-adha/2020/07/17/aef4f67a-c78c-11ea-a825-8722004e4150_story.html

“I urge the nation to continue observing [precautions] essential to sustain our positive trend. Eid ul Azha must be celebrated with simplicity so as not to repeat what happened last Eid,” Khan said in tweets Friday, using an alternate spelling for Eid al-Adha.
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Two months ago, even with the novel coronavirus lurking, Pakistanis were eager to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan, after a long month of prayer and fasting. The virus had barely affected the country, so officials decided to lift some health restrictions, allowing people to shop and socialize freely.

Within weeks, the price of this relaxation had become starkly clear: Cases of the coronavirus soared in the impoverished Muslim-majority nation of 230 million, and hospitals were overwhelmed. By June, infections reached 6,000 per day, and some days saw nearly 150 deaths. Overall, more than 260,000 Pakistanis have become infected, over 200,000 have recovered, and more than 5,500 have died.

A sterner official attitude now prevails. Prime Minister Imran Khan, while reluctant to impose a nationwide lockdown, initiated a policy of two-week “hot spot” lockdowns in hundreds of communities where the virus had spiked. Khan also asked the military to assist in the fight, and its involvement in logistics, security and surveillance helped to flatten the coronavirus curve. The past several weeks have seen fewer than 2,200 new cases and 70 deaths on an average day.

But nobody in the government is breathing a sigh of relief. Two weeks from now, the nation will celebrate Eid al-Adha, a different Muslim holiday of sacrifice, which draws millions to crowded livestock fairs, shopping bazaars, mosques, family gatherings and ritual animal slaughtering.

With public fears of the virus ebbing, officials worry that people will abandon masks and social distancing and rush into crowded holiday settings. And with the economy badly damaged and provincial governments imposing repeated closures of restaurants, wedding halls and entertainment venues, many Pakistanis are also desperate to get back to work and business.


Riaz Haq said…
Sacrificial animals for #EidulAdha: Online buying picks up in #Pakistan amid #Covid_19 pandemic with big makeshift markets banned. Many meat brands & cattle farm owners have websites taking orders. They're reporting 5X more orders than in past. #ecommerce http://v.aa.com.tr/1916015

Traditionally, Karachiites visit the Sohrab Goth Maweshi Mandi – claimed as Asia's largest cattle market – to buy the animals of their choice to sacrifice on Eid al-Adha, one of the two main Muslim festivals which takes place between the 10th and 13th of the Islamic month of Dhul Hijjah.

Pakistan is expected to start celebrating Eid on on July 31, subject to the sighting of the moon.

But the conditions this year are entirely different due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has infected millions and changed the global lifestyle altogether.

"We expect a 50% fall in the number of buyers this year, mainly because of the coronavirus fallout," Zaki Abro, an organizer of the cattle market in Karachi, told Anadolu Agency.

While citizens' purchasing power has fallen due to virus restrictions, he said, sellers, on the contrary, want to make up for the losses they have incurred during the months-long lockdown, leading to a significant increase in animal prices.

Last year, nearly 500,000 animals were sold for 6 billion Pakistani rupees ($35.8 million) in the Sohrab Goth market alone.

"There is no shortage of animals. A higher number of cattle are available this year but the problem is the lack of ability to buy," Abro said, adding that sales are also likely to drop by half compared to last year.

Marking the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son on Allah’s command, financially-able Muslims slaughter animals such as cows, sheep and goats. The meat is then shared among family and friends, and also donated to the poor.

Online platforms and charities

Platforms providing online buying and sacrificial services have existed in Pakistan for years. However, the pandemic situation coupled with new restrictions have increased their popularity by manifold this year.

Unlike in the past, authorities have banned the setting up of small makeshift cattle markets within cities, and slaughter of animals in open spaces, fearing a spike in a relatively dwindling virus infection ratio, is also prohibited.

Taking advantage, scores of meat brands, and cattle farm owners have launched websites offering citizens "manageable," and "convenient" ways of sacrificing cattle. So much so, several companies are providing online sacrifice services to overseas Pakistanis, mainly in the US and Europe, as well.

"We have booked orders five times higher than in 2019," Arshad Hussain, an official of a popular countrywide online sacrificial service provider, told Anadolu Agency.

"A majority of them will simply collect the meat on the first, second, and third day of Eid as per their booking. Few have bought animals that we will deliver on their doorstep before Eid," he said.

Most of the orders, he added, had been received from big cities like Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar.

With the virus being highly contagious, people have been advised to avoid large crowds.

Even though many are visiting the markets to buy animals after inspecting them physically, things have changed.

Aamir Hussain, a Karachi-based system developer, would usually bring goats home a week before Eid as his children enjoy taking care of them. But not this time.

"I have booked qurbani [sacrifice] through an online website this year as I am not comfortable with the idea of exposing myself by visiting the cattle market, and slaughtering the cattle outside my house," he told Anadolu Agency. "I am not going to do that this time. It will be too risky for myself, and my family."


Riaz Haq said…
#Covid19 Attacks #India’s Vast #Rural Heartland. #Coronavirus cases mount after #migrant workers returned home to poor areas with weak #healthcare. #Modi #BJP #Hindutva - WSJ. https://www.wsj.com/articles/covid-19-attacks-indias-vast-rural-heartland-11595518230


Across much of rural India, home to 900 million of the country’s 1.3 billion people, the story is similar. Nationwide, infections have surged, passing 1.2 million confirmed cases, ranking India behind the U.S. and Brazil in the global pandemic. On a daily basis, India announced a record 45,720 new infections Thursday, with 1,128 deaths, putting it behind the U.S. for daily increase in infections.

India’s urban centers—particularly Mumbai, New Delhi and Chennai— have been hit the hardest so far, but poorer rural states have been leading recent new-case growth.

West Bengal, where Dokangora is, for example, has seen new cases rise more than two times the national average during the past two weeks. It is reporting more than 2,000 new cases a day now, up from fewer than 500 a day last month.

Official figures likely greatly undercount the number infected, experts say, because so few tests are happening, particularly in rural areas.

The main vector, health experts say, has been migrant workers bringing the virus home with them to swaths of the country that have very little health-care infrastructure.

“The movement from urban to rural India has set the stage for the rural wave,” said T. Jacob John, a retired professor of virology at the Christian Medical College in the southern city of Vellore.

Everyone, it seems, is scared. Mohammad Akhibul said he hasn’t dared to step out of his tiny house for two weeks. His family’s eight members have been sharing one bar of soap to wash their hands. Local authorities provided two bars, but the family has decided to save one for later.

Mr. Akhibul said he and his relatives can’t work and are surviving on government food rations that neighbors drop at their door.

Mr. Akhibul, 31 years old, lost his job as a machine operator at a factory in New Delhi when Covid-19 hit. He returned to the village with his wife and two children. Despite being quarantined for 14 days at a rural center, his family is being shunned, he said.

“We are not allowed to get water from the village pump,” he said. “They don’t allow their kids to play with our children.” The family gets water once a day from the pond where farm animals drink, he said.

The village (Dokangora, West Bengal) is still in the early phases of the outbreak, but officials from the rural district of Purba Medinipur, where the village is located, say they are already overwhelmed. The district has had to manage the return of more than 70,000 people from other states, often from India’s current coronavirus epicenters of Mumbai and New Delhi.

The district has set up more than 70 centers for screening and quarantining returnees who have to be taken care of for two weeks before they are allowed to go back to their villages.

District officials said they had to quell protests at the schools being used as quarantine centers as parents were worried the virus would spread to the schools and infect their children.

The local coronavirus hotline has been ringing constantly with questions from residents who have all types of symptoms and concerns, not knowing what to do. Villagers often call the hotline to report on their neighbors who have come home from the big cities.

“They panic if someone coming from outside has a mild cough or is sneezing,” said Tulika Banerjee, a local government officer who helps oversee Dokangora village. “They call our help line to say they have coronavirus.”
Riaz Haq said…
A nightly #talkshow circus plays out on TV channels in #Pakistan and the favorite target is #ImranKhan. Personal opinions trump unbiased analyses on TV with varying degrees of harshness & hostility. Hearsay shoves verification aside. #PTI #rumor #innuendo https://gn24.ae/a3619a804da9000

HIGHLIGHTS
Every night, there is the circus with some familiar faces. The formations of panels differ. A host, three panellists, and one topic worded in varying degrees of harshness and hostility.
A host, one PTI politician acting as the spokesperson of the party, and two guests, either both from the rival Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, or one politician and an analyst. A host and three “analysts”, mostly active or retired journalists.

And just as I settle down in my comfy old couch to take a much-needed hiatus from political commentary on Twitter, and in my columns, something jolts me un-dead in my typing tracks. While I look for Mufti Menk’s beautiful advice to retweet, lyrics to subtweet, movies to tweet-review, and gorgeous people and dogs to gush over, my weird luck pushes me to something I avoid like coronavirus-ridden droplets. I go on a binge watching of Pakistani prime time talk shows. My mind is in a tizzy now. And that, my darlings, is not a good thing in the time of coronavirus.

Retracing my TV viewing of the last two decades – as going further back is a waste of my carefully chosen words and the reader’s attention –here is my honest confession: I was and am a news and panel discussions and interviews junkie. Having been unusually interested in politics and movies all my life, print and electronic media was my curious and constant peep into the world of people I wished to be, some I idolised, many I couldn’t relate to, and some I didn’t like. Post the year 2000, Pakistan’s private TV channels opened a world of desi information and debate that I mostly liked, and occasionally criticised. I found it all utterly fascinating.

The power of nascent media spelled a new era of freedom in a country that had seen draconian measures of military dictators and civilian behemoths to control the “suitability” of news and promulgation of what and how much the public needed to know. Private media houses boomed as an interesting mix of the money-making corporate and the responsible journalist. Freedom of expression was the new mantra, guarded with an earnestness that appeared sincere and unapologetic. Like all good things, that earnestness had an expiration date.

The 24/7 news unfolded a new TV dynamic, and without much ado, strengthened the inevitability of the electronic media journalist assuming the shape of the new power wielder. Politics and media tiptoed into a union that was based on mutual need. The liaison engendered a new entity: the kingmaker.
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Imran Khan’s government has had many missteps and feeble policies. That is in addition to the wreck of a country Khan inherited. What his government is doing simultaneously: undo the damage done by the previous governments, implement new policies, initiate new projects, and make amends for its own weak implementation of some of its promises. Talk show hosts of Pakistan, in their recent avatars of being the guardians of public’s wellbeing, refuse to show the full picture. They are gleeful about their power to construct new narratives. They are unabashed about their audacity to contort the reality.

Giving the impression of having numerous subjects but in reality only one theme, on the nightly theatrics of talk shows, what is invisible to the perpetrators of cacophony and chaos is that it is not Prime Minister Imran Khan who is being harmed.

The first and the final victim is one: Pakistan.
Riaz Haq said…
#Masks in #Pakistan: Textile units in #Faisalabad, #Lahore & #Karachi have switched entirely to producing masks for domestic use & export. On average, 500,000-600,000 masks were being produced daily at textile factories in Faisalabad city alone. #COVID19 https://www.arabnews.com/node/1709601#.XxxG285Oohs.twitter

KARACHI: As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread across Pakistan, a chaotic market has sprung up for face masks.
In the early days, frontline medical staff and the public clamored for masks and other personal protective equipment, as production companies in Pakistan and around the world struggled with a host of obstacles, from illness to freight costs, from hoarding to a supply squeeze on filter fabric.
In Pakistan, which has recorded more than 270,000 infections so far, the shortage of masks was so acute in March and April that health workers took to social media to appeal for help and citizens hoarded supplies, pushing prices by up to 2,000 percent.
But these problems are a thing of the past as hundreds of new mask brokers and businesses have emerged around the country.
“I lost my job after the coronavirus pandemic triggered lockdowns and all businesses were shut down, but now I am happy because I have found a better alternative,” said Owais Ahmed, a manager at a garment factory who has been selling masks at a stall in Karachi’s Bolton Market for the past two months.
Every day, Ahmed said, he sells up to 20 boxes of masks (an average box has 50 masks), with each box costing up to 600 rupees ($3.5). The hot commodity in the mask trade, the N95 device, which is sturdier than surgical masks and has a better filter, sells for 300 rupees a piece.
Abdul Samad Memon, the senior vice chairman of the Pakistan Chemist and Druggists Association, said a box of surgical masks imported from China for up to 100 rupees sold for as much as 2,300 rupees in March.
But raids by the authorities pushed prices slowly down, and more production units had been set up as major textile firms switched their assembly lines to mask manufacturing.
Ijaz Khokhar, the chief coordinator for the Pakistan Readymade Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said many textile units operating in Faisalabad, Lahore and Karachi had switched entirely to producing masks for both local supply and export. On average, he said, 500,000 to 600,000 masks were being produced a day at textile factories in Faisalabad city alone.
In early March, the World Health Organization estimated that 89 million medical masks were required for the COVID-19 response each month, which required a 40 percent increase in manufacturing globally.
Medical suppliers and health care industry officials complain the frenzy to produce masks has broken down standard quality controls, opening the market to an influx of masks of uncertain effectiveness.
Manufacturers claim they have met all quality standards for masks for export, especially to the United States and the United Kingdom, and were working hard to bridge “quality deficiencies” in masks supplied to local buyers.
As virus infections have steadily declined around the world, vendors have begun to fear for the prospects of their new businesses.
“I think the mask business will continue for the whole year,” said Shahzad Ahmed Siddiqui, who switched to selling masks when his readymade garments business closed due to coronavirus lockdowns.
But Owais Ahmed feared the mask business would soon decline.
“The business will continue up to Eid Al-Adha,” he said as he arranged masks at his store. “Maximum business will go on for 15 to 20 days, not beyond that.”
Riaz Haq said…
50 different interventions. 2300 smart lockdowns covering 47mn people based on data driven evidence. A fall in positivity from over 22% to below 10%, & excluding Sindh, near 5% for the country.

@MBilalLakhani
talk with SAPM Zafar Mirza on controlling C19



https://youtu.be/CEafplkFuUc

https://twitter.com/javedhassan/status/1287063746976849920?s=20





Riaz Haq said…
One of the key factors in cutting down COVID19 infection rate has been change in people's behavior, according to Dr.Zafar Mirza. They's wearing masks and taking other precautions to prevent transmission. He said the mass hysteria stirred up in the media came mainly from the rich and the upper middle class. The voices of the ordinary people and daily wage earners were not part of public discourse reported by the media.

https://youtu.be/CEafplkFuUc
Riaz Haq said…
Excepts of Wall Street Journal Story Why Youthful, Conservative Pakistan Is a Coronavirus Bright Spot

Two months ago, Pakistan was drawing unfavorable Covid-19 comparisons with Brazil

https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-youthful-conservative-pakistan-is-a-coronavirus-bright-spot-11596297600

"Major hospitals report beds are freeing up in previously overflowing coronavirus wards, even in Pakistan’s biggest and hardest-hit city, Karachi," the Wall Street Journal said in a report from Islamabad. "The tally of patients on ventilators has halved over the past month," it adds.

"This is all happening as Pakistan’s neighbours to the east and west — India and Iran — are still reporting that infection rates are climbing steadily," the Journal said.


Even more surprising, the report added, was how the progress in Pakistan — where coronavirus was spreading out of control some two months ago — came after Prime Minister Imran Khan resisted the World Health Organization's (WHO) advice, declaring in May that lockdowns are too costly for the poor and reopening the economy.


"We charted the tough course between a strict lockdown and completely opening up," Dr Faisal Sultan, an infectious diseases physician brought in by PM Imran Khan as his adviser for COVID-19.

The report about Pakistan’s success comes when even the US — a superpower with enormous resources at its disposal — struggles to control the pandemic, with 4.7 million cases and 157,000 deaths.

PM Imran started wearing a mask in public

Pakistani health officials have not declared a win, the report said, adding they worry that progress could be undone, particularly with the current Eid-ul-Azha holiday and the upcoming Muharram, both of which traditionally attract public gatherings across the country.

Relatively low testing levels in Pakistan have also raised questions about the scale of the decline, the Journal noted, but quoted medical experts as saying that the turnaround trend is clear. Tellingly, the proportion of tests coming back positive has more than halved, it said, citing official figures.

Pakistan locked its economy down in March, early on in its outbreak, which kept the virus from spreading widely while the population stayed home, the WSJ stated. However, after the restrictions were lifted in May, many Pakistanis celebrated the end of the fasting month of Ramazan with shopping sprees and visits to family, unleashing a burst of infections.

The rapid spread jolted people into changing their behavior, with more mask-wearing, hand-washing, and maintaining social distance, Dr Sultan was cited as saying. The preventive messages increased from the government and public service campaigns.

The prime minister also started wearing a mask in public, the report highlighted

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Just 4% of Pakistan’s population is over 65 — compared with 16% in the US and 23% in Italy, according to United Nations data. The average age in Pakistan is 22, more than a decade younger than Brazil, and 25 years younger than Italy, noting also that there are no bars and nightclubs.

There are also no institutionalised homes for the elderly, sites of deadly outbreaks elsewhere. Women tend not to go out of the home to work, meaning the workforce is overwhelmingly made up of men who are mostly young, it was pointed out.
Riaz Haq said…
Critter compost: #Pakistan plans to use #locusts to nourish crops. So far, #insecticide-spraying operations have been carried out in 32 affected districts - both desert and cropping areas - spread over 2.6 million acres. #locustattack https://reliefweb.int/report/pakistan/critter-compost-pakistan-plans-use-locusts-nourish-crops?utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=shared&utm_source=twitter.com via @reliefweb

First the idea was to feed them to chickens, now the plan is to grind them into fertiliser - as more locust swarms threaten Pakistan's crops, a project aims to test ways of killing and using the voracious pests for the benefit of local communities.

Pakistan's worst locust infestation in about 30 years started in June 2019, when the insects came over from Iran in a surge climate experts link to changing conditions conducive to the spread of the insects.

This summer, the locusts are breeding locally, says the Pakistani government, which is trying to head off another attack by spraying pesticides on newborn locusts - called hoppers because they cannot fly - in desert areas on the Indian border.

But worries that the pesticides could be harmful to plants, animals and people have motivated researchers to seek chemical-free methods of cutting the locust population.

"We wanted to come up with a locust control project that would be environmentally friendly and sustainable," said biotechnologist Johar Ali.

For Ali and his colleague Muhammad Khurshid, who was working for the food ministry at the time, the answer was chicken feed.

In February, the state-run Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) sent Ali and Khurshid, now with the privatisation ministry, to implement a three-day trial in Punjab province in eastern Pakistan.

During an infestation this spring, villagers in Okara district plucked locusts - which are largely immobile at night - off trees in a nearby forest, gathering about 20 tonnes of the flying insects.

The project team bought the bugs for 20 Pakistani rupees ($0.12) a kilo, then sold them to a nearby processing plant, which dried them and mixed them into chicken feed, Ali said.

The aim was to help control the locust surge in forested and heavily populated areas, where widespread pesticide spraying is not possible, while also generating income for communities hit by the swarms.

"It's an out-of-box solution," Ali said. "It could easily be scaled up in our populated rural areas. Yes, in our desert areas where locusts breed, chemical sprays make sense - but not in areas where we have farms with crops, livestock and people."

In June, the government shifted the focus from chicken feed to compost, after PARC decided fertiliser was a safer and more feasible use for the insects.

Last month, communities living in the desert areas of Cholistan, Tharparkar, Nara and Thal were trained on how to catch locusts as they head there to breed for the season.

The next step is to look at how to turn the pests into organic fertiliser, explained PARC chairman Muhammad Azeem Khan.

By providing a "slow and continuous" release of nutrients, the compost could help farmers increase their yields by 30% and cut their use of chemical fertiliser in half, he said.

PESTICIDE WORRIES

Pakistan's current locust problem started with what Muhammad Tariq Khan, technical director of the food security ministry's plant protection department, called a "climate change-induced international locust crisis" in Yemen and East Africa.

"Two big cyclones in 2018 dumped enough water in a desert area called the Empty Quarter in the Arabian Peninsula for three generations of locusts to grow undetected," he said.

Torn by civil war, Yemen was unable to focus on exterminating the pests, which lay their eggs beneath the soil, and so "they came up like a bomb", Khan said.

July's monsoon rains arrived 10 days earlier than usual in Pakistan, creating moist soil conditions favourable for the locusts to breed in the border desert area, Khan said.

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