Hungary controls plague of locusts

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A SWARM of locusts that has wreaked havoc in the Hungarian countryside over the past few days has finally been brought under control, the Hungarian government announced yesterday.

The swarm - the first to plague the country for 60 years - had been effectively stopped in its tracks by insecticides sprayed by a fleet of helicopters over the past two days, the MTI news agency reported.

But the trail of destruction left in its wake was estimated to have cost affected farmers, already badly hit by drought, some pounds 135,000 in damage to crops.

'These are almost biblical times here,' said a Western observer in Budapest after seeing acres of wheatfields stripped bare by the locusts near the village of Tatarszentgyorgy, 30 miles south-east of Budapest. 'Barely anyone can remember the last locust swarm, and for those affected it has been devastating.'

Although many Hungarians have referred to the invaders as 'Moroccan' locusts, they are, in fact, a local type which appeared earlier this year as a result of the drought and an exceptionally mild winter.

The first swarm last week quickly set about devouring crops as anguished farmers, lacking effective insecticides, watched helplessly. With the swarm rapidly approaching Tatarszentgyorgy early this week, Shell-Interag Ift, a large petrol concern, offered to donate large quantities of an insecticide that had proved effective in killing off locusts in northern Africa.

The intervention came just in time. 'The alarm in the region was extremely high,' said Adam Danko, the head of the economics department at the MTI agency. Although the final cost of crop damage has yet to be assessed, the government has promised it will compensate all affected farmers.