Since the start of the year, the world has witnessed some unpredictable and shocking events taking place around the globe, and despite our characteristically quick recovery from the disasters, the scale of these calamities cannot be dismissed. In 2018, a shifting pattern of consecutive rains in the Arabian Peninsula created pockets of water in the Rub’ Al Khali region. This conveniently allowed the endemic desert locust species (Schistocerca gregaria) to breed undetected and increase almost 8000-fold. In the spring of 2019, the swarms forayed beyond the Arabian Peninsula into neighboring countries, spreading as far as Nepal in the East and Kenya in the South.
The locusts quickly established their menacing presence wherever they went. Buzzing swarms of millions lay waste to crops and greenery that crossed their path. Countries like Kenya, which had not seen a locust attack in the past 70 years, were pushed hard to alleviate the growing concerns of food insecurity in the country. Yemen, a country fragile from years of military conflict, was racked tremendously. Closer to home, Pakistan, a country with an unstable socio-political fiber, saw fears of food shortage spiking as the locusts penetrated through the Pak-Iran border. Hence, the Pakistani Government was forced to declare a national emergency on February 1, 2020. In some hard-struck areas, people became desperate enough to gorge on the pest itself; in April of 2020, hearing of “locust biryani” was not news to ears. In a grand total, the teeming insects affected 2.25 million hectares of land and have hiked up the recovery costs to a shocking $1 billion.
Unfortunately, just as the locusts have escaped extermination at the hands of mankind before, they are dreaded to return with even more threat before soon.
This is just one of the many unforeseen disasters that fell upon us this year; but does that indicate a pattern? Is humanity in for more apocalyptic calamities? Scientists tell us that this may be the case for us if we persist in our ways. Diving into the How and Why of the statement, the first on the list is pesticides. Every year, farmers spray thousands of liters of chemicals onto their crops to maximize output, heedless of the consequences. While they succeed in maintaining a monoculture to a large extent, they invariably change the mini-ecosystem of the region for the worse. The most daunting part of it all is that a small part of the pest population always survives, developing resistance to the pesticide that was meant to exterminate it, and ensuring the continuation of a stronger-than-before pest.
Pesticides pose further danger to farmer-friendly, beneficial organisms; honeybee being the prime victim. Bees are responsible for pollinating almost all of the plants whose produce adorns our grocery stores; an estimate puts the value maintained by bees in agriculture to a whopping $30 billion a year. Sadly, the populations of honey bees are dropping at an alarming rate mainly due to pests, pesticides, quickly disappearing flower meadows and global warming, which is next on the list of causes of collapse of the natural order.
Global warming threatens to turn the weather patterns of the planet upside down. A shifting and unpredictable precipitation pattern cannot only propagate the rise of pests similar to locusts but will also leave parts of the world flooded while others die of water shortages. As the UK’s NCAS put it, “Wet will become wetter, and dry will become drier.”. Already in 2008, the drought-affected island of Cyprus became so parched that water had to be shipped in from Greece. This is dwarfed by the African countries where drought and famine have ravaged the countries in recent years. In Pakistan, a very rainy season has submerged Karachi this month (as of July 2020) and only last year, Venice, Italy was swamped in floodwater.
The rise in temperatures has led to the melting of ice caps and glaciers which, combined with heaving rainfall and soon-to-be-frequent tropical hurricanes, will inevitably result in rising sea levels. This spells misfortune for many populations around the globe, among which the Maldives is on the brink of becoming Atlantis. According to the World Bank, the entire country could be underwater in the next 80 years. To the East of Maldives, Indonesia has already seen two of its islands swallowed by the ocean. Jakarta, the capital of the archipelago nation, has been labeled as one of the fastest sinking cities in the world. The city sinks 1-15 cm every year, and models show that 95% of North Jakarta will be submerged by 2050.
Unless we begin the recovery of the planet right away, we will watch as the human population dwindles before our eyes. In case we are hit with an uncontainable catastrophe, some of the countries with weak and unstable governments may be unsuccessful in the struggle with droughts, famines, floods, or disease outbreaks. The COVID-19 pandemic has disillusioned many about our prowess in disaster management. Were there to be a new infection, infestation, or other unforeseen calamity, thousands would perish in the less wealthy nations. Pakistan, with its natural resources virtually untapped, may see a high number of casualties. Thus, it is imperative for us to put in all of our efforts towards making the last stand and correcting our mistakes as a species to ensure our and our planet’s survival.