UN warns of health implications of sand, dust on humans

at 7:41 pm
Representative photo of dust storm. Pic Courtesy: UNEP

New Delhi: The United Nations (UN) has flagged the serious implications of sand and dust on human and livestock health as well as standing crops, with an estimated 2 billion tons of such stuff entering the atmosphere every year.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the frequency of sand and dust storms is increasing in many world regions and wreaking havoc from Northern and Central Asia to sub-Saharan Africa.

“Sand and dust storms are an underappreciated problem now dramatically more frequent in some places worldwide, with at least 25% of the phenomenon attributed to human activities,” the UNCCD says.

Accompanied by policy recommendations, the warning by UNCCD comes as a 5-day meeting is underway in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, from November 13 to 17, to take stock of global progress in the Convention’s implementation.

The UNCCD is one of three Conventions originated at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

The other two address climate change (UNFCCC) and biodiversity (UN CBD).

“The sight of rolling dark clouds of sand and dust engulfing everything in their path and turning day into night is one of nature’s most intimidating spectacles.  It is a costly phenomenon that wreaks havoc everywhere from Northern and Central Asia to sub-Saharan Africa,” says Ibrahim Thiaw, UNCCD’s Executive Secretary.

“Sand and dust storms present a formidable challenge to achieving sustainable development. However, just as sand and dust storms are exacerbated by human activities, they can also be reduced through human actions,” adds Thiaw.

While sand and dust storms (SDS) are a regionally common and seasonal natural phenomenon, the problem is exacerbated by poor land and water management, droughts, and climate change, according to UNCCD experts.

And fluctuations in their intensity, magnitude, or duration “can make SDS unpredictable and dangerous.”

In some areas, desert dust doubled in the last century.

“Sand and dust storms (SDS) have become increasingly frequent and severe having substantial transboundary impacts, affecting various aspects of the environment, climate, health, agriculture, livelihoods and the socioeconomic well-being of individuals. The accumulation of impacts from sand and dust storms can be significant,” says Feras Ziadat, Technical Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), Chair of the UN Coalition on Combating Sand and Dust Storms.

“In source areas, they damage crops, affect livestock, and strip topsoil. In depositional areas atmospheric dust, especially in combination with local industrial pollution, can cause or worsen human health problems such as respiratory diseases.

“Communications, power generation, transport, and supply chains can also be disrupted by low visibility and dust-induced mechanical failures.”