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Swarms Of Locusts Are The Latest Threat To India Amid Coronavirus Pandemic


India's been hit by a cyclone and a heat wave this month. That's all on top of the pandemic, which, of course, has the country under lockdown. The country's economy has also taken a hit with 100 million Indians having lost their jobs. And now they're beset with another problem. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: They violated the coronavirus lockdown and landed in deserted streets this week in India's Pink City, the tourist hub of Jaipur. But these were unwelcome visitors, and they turned the sky brown. It was like an eclipse.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

FRAYER: "We couldn't see the sun, there were so many locusts," one resident tells local TV. He says his kids got scared and ran indoors. After a noisy night of flapping and buzzing, the locusts left his fruit trees destroyed. KL Gurjar is deputy director of India's locust warning organization. It exists to warn farmers about when to harvest their crops so that locusts don't eat them.

K L GURJAR: Millions, millions, millions of locusts because in one square kilometer, you can see approximately 40 million.

FRAYER: He says the air is thick with locusts. So far, they've blanketed half a dozen states in western and central India. They look like big brown grasshoppers with horns. And farmers already facing losses because of the coronavirus lockdown are fighting back.


FRAYER: They're clanging pots and pans to scare the locusts away. In one town, a deejay hauled a huge boom box into the fields to blast them with techno music.


FRAYER: Others are aiming fire hoses filled with insecticide and even sending up drones. Locusts swarm India annually just before the monsoon rains. But this is the worst infestation in 25 years. Tarun Gopalakrishnan from the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi blames climate change. Locusts, he says, love heat, and temperatures have topped 115 in Delhi this week. They also love moisture, and India is getting a lot more storms outside the rainy season, he says.

TARUN GOPALAKRISHNAN: And the Indian Ocean average water temperature has been warmer than usual. So all that has contributed to breeding conditions for locusts.

FRAYER: Locusts breed in the rain. Next month, the monsoon deluge begins. And so a race is now underway to kill these locusts or drive them out before they have a summer of romance in India. Lauren Frayer, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.