The BBC television in a program dating back to 2016, elaborated citing United Nations scientists, on how there has been significant rise in sand and dust storms in the Middle East, with major impacts on human health. It claimed that mismanagement of land and water amid conflicts in the region has been a key factor, as well as climate change. Some excerpts are provided below.

“In the Middle East there has been a significant increase in the frequency and the intensity of sand and dust storms in the past 15 years or so,” said Enric Terradellas a meteorologist with the World Meteorology Organisation’s sand and dust storm prediction centre for the region.

“One of the main sources of sand and dust storms is Iraq, where the flow of rivers has decreased because of a race in dam constructions in upstream countries.

“That has led to the disappearance of marshes and drying up of lakes both in Iraq and Iran, and the sediments left behind are very important sources of dust in the region.”

Deserts have always been the source of sand storms in the region, but scientists say unsustainable mining, oil extraction and agriculture as well as intensive military conflicts are worsening the situation.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has predicted that Iraq could witness 300 dust events in a year within 10 years, up from around 120 per year now.

“A dust storm consists of massive amount of particulates in the air and when people breathe it, these can get down their lungs and cause respiratory illness and heart disease and so on,” said Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, a health and climate change expert with the World Health Organisation.

The WHO has said dust storms contribute to poor air quality that is blamed for the death of 7 million people every year.

For more BBC broadcasted programs on this story, click on the story’s title below.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Health had yet another meeting this week on the issue and concluded that :

From higher morbidity and mortality rates to reduced economic growth, the impact of sand and dust storms can be major, especially for lower-income nations and vulnerable communities. However, with stronger collaboration and improved information-sharing, much of the risk could be managed and mitigated, a UN meeting heard on Monday.


Children run from an approaching sand storm in Gao, Mali. UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Sand and dust storms, a ‘human well-being’ issue, says high level panel

16 July 2018

The high-level General Assembly meeting examined the risks posed by sand and dust storms, known by the acronym SDS, and the various opportunities available to mitigate those risks and fill the existing knowledge gaps.

“For people, the stakes of inaction on this issue are high,” said Miroslav Lajčák, President of the UN General Assembly. “Human well-being is at risk.”

Various studies have revealed the severe effects that sand and dust storms can have on health, including respiratory, cardiovascular, skin and eye diseases.

The panel also highlighted the major economic impact that these meteorological events can have: “One sand or dust storm can cost hundreds of millions of dollars,” explained Mr. Lajčák. “The losses are really felt in the agriculture, transportation and infrastructure sectors. These are resources that could have been channelled towards sustainable development at a time when we need to mobilize more for the 2030 Agenda”.

As this is a phenomenon that affects more than 45 countries – principally in the Sahel, Central and East Asia, the Middle East as well as North America and the Caribbean – Governments and experts have sought solutions to mitigate the risk, build resilience and strengthen the amount of information on the subject globally. The UN World Meteorological Organization‘s Warning Advisory and Assessment System is now capable of issuing forecasts as far as three days in advance. However, ensuring that this information reaches the most vulnerable to reduce death rates as well as negative impacts to their livelihoods, is a challenge that remains to be tackled.

“It is unconscionable that information that can help the health of people affected…is not available to them,” said Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, in a video played at the event.

Among the solutions proposed, the panellists cited: greening areas where SDS events tend to be borne by planting more trees; improving information channels so even the most vulnerable communities can adequately prepare and protect themselves; and enhancing cross-border collaboration so countries can share lessons learned and implement holistic disaster risk reduction measures.

“For the last three years, the General Assembly has pledged to take action on sand and dust storms. But we cannot do this alone,” said Mr. Lajčák, calling for “more Member States to work in tandem with the Rio Conventions, on climate change, biodiversity, and importantly, combatting desertification” and address the issue in a durable and lasting fashion.

ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH|GENERAL ASSEMBLY