According to a new UN report, more than 500 million people in India and more than 80 per cent of the populations of Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Iran are exposed to medium and high levels of poor air quality due to sand and dust storms.
The findings were published in the Asian and Pacific Centre for the Development of Disaster Information Management (APDIM) report Sand and Dust Storms Risk Assessment in Asia and the Pacific.
APDIM is a regional institution of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).
Sand and Dust Storms Risk Assessment in Asia and the Pacific
It provides a long-term horizon of the risk and potential socio-economic losses associated with sand and dust storms in the region for a better understanding of the severe multidimensional impact of this hazard, including the deterioration to human health, in urban and rural settings, and its adverse impact on energy, transport, agriculture and environment sectors with a regional and transboundary perspective.
Sand and dust storms contribute significantly to poor air quality in Karachi, Lahore and Delhi in ‘southwest Asia’.
Nearly 60 million people in these places experienced more than 170 dusty days a year in 2019.
The situation is much worse for six million residents of eight cities across the region.
Three in China, two in Iran, two in Pakistan and one in Uzbekistan.
These places had unhealthy concentrations of particulate matter in the air every day for at least ten months in 2019.
Corridors of Asia-Pacific:
The report identified ’east and northeast Asia’, ’south and southwest Asia’, ’central Asia’ and the ’Pacific’ as the four main sand and dust storm corridors of Asia-Pacific.
The region is the second-largest emitter of mineral dust
Energy loss: India, China and Pakistan lost 1,584 gigawatt-hours (GWh), 679 GWh and 555 gHw of energy loss, respectively, due to sand and dust storms in 2019.
These losses amounted to over $107 million (Rs 782 crore) for India per year and exceeded $46 million and $37 million for China and Pakistan respectively.
Reduction in Cotton yield
Cotton contributes significantly to the gross domestic product and foreign exchange earnings in Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
A reduction in its yield in recent years has been linked with these storms.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDG): Sand and dust storms directly affect 11 of the 17 United Nations-mandated sustainable development goals (SDG):
Ending poverty in all forms
Good health and well-being
Safe water and sanitation
Affordable and clean energy
Decent work and economic growth
Industry innovation and infrastructure
Sustainable cities and communities
Life below water
Life on land
Extreme droughts heighten risks
The risk of impacts from sand and dust storms is projected to increase in the 2030s due to more extreme drought conditions in parts of Western Australia, south-eastern Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan
The deposition of dust on glaciers induces a warming effect, increasing the melting of ice, with direct and indirect impacts on society through numerous issues, including food security, energy production, agriculture, water stress and flood regimes.
Positives outcomes of a dust storm
They can increase the nutrient content in the areas of deposition and benefit vegetation.
Dust deposited on water bodies can alter their chemical characteristics, triggering both positive as well as adverse outcomes.
Dust particles that carry iron can enrich parts of oceans, improving the phytoplankton balance and impacting marine food webs.
The evidence presented in this assessment calls for the Member States to strategise their joint actions, consider gaining a deeper understanding of the socio-economic impact of sand and dust storms, establish coordinated monitoring and early warning system with an impact-based focus as well as coordinate actions in most at-risk and exposed geographical areas to mitigate the risks.
About Sand and Dust storms
They usually occur when strong winds lift large amounts of sand and dust from bare, dry soils into the atmosphere.
They are common meteorological hazards in arid and semi-arid regions.
They are usually caused by thunderstorms – or strong pressure gradients associated with cyclones – which increase wind speed over a wide area.
These strong winds lift large amounts of sand and dust from bare, dry soils into the atmosphere, transporting them hundreds to thousands of kilometres away.
Major Sources : The main sources of these mineral dust are the arid regions of Northern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia and China. Comparatively, Australia, America and South Africa make minor, but still important, contributions.
Global estimates of dust emissions, mainly derived from simulation models, vary between one and three Gigatons per year.
Impacts on human health
Dust particle size is a key determinant of the potential hazards to human health.
Particles larger than 10 μm are not breathable, thus can only damage external organs – mostly causing skin and eye irritations, conjunctivitis and enhanced susceptibility to ocular infection.
Inhalable particles, those smaller than 10 μm, often get trapped in the nose, mouth and upper respiratory tract thus can be associated with respiratory disorders such as asthma, tracheitis, pneumonia, allergic rhinitis and silicosis.
Dust also plays a role in the transmission of valley fever – a potentially deadly disease – in the Southwest of the United States and in Northern Mexico by acting as a transporter of Coccidioides fungi spores.
Impacts on the environment and society
The dust has many negative impacts on agriculture, including reducing crop yields by burying seedlings, causing loss of plant tissue, reducing photosynthetic activity and increasing soil erosion.
Indirect dust deposit impacts include filling irrigation canals, covering transportation routes and affecting river and stream water quality.
Reductions in visibility due to airborne dust also have an impact on air and land transport.
Poor visibility conditions are a danger during aircraft landing and taking off – landings may be diverted and departures delayed.
Dust can impact the output of solar power plants, especially those that rely on direct solar radiation.
The WMO Sand and Dust Storm Project was initiated in 2004 and its Sand and Dust Storm Warning Advisory and Assessment System (SDS-WAS) was launched by the Fifteenth World Meteorological Congress in 2007.
SDS-WAS enhances the ability of countries to deliver timely, quality sand and dust storm forecasts, observations, information and knowledge to users through an international partnership of research and operational communities.
Coalition on Combating SDS
The United Nations Coalition on Combating SDS was launched at COP 14.
Currently, 15 Members of the Coalition include UNEP, WMO, UNCCD, UNITAR, ICAO, UNDP, UN-Habitat, WHO, ESCAP, ESCWA, IUCN, FAO, World Bank, ITU and UNECE. The key objectives of the Coalition include
Preparing a global response to SDS, including a strategy and action plan, which could result in development of a United Nations system-wide approach to addressing SDS
Identifying entry points to support countries and regions affected by SDS in the implementation of cross-sectoral and transboundary risk reduction and response measures for SDS.
Preparing a platform for engaging with partners and enhancing dialogue and collaboration among affected countries and the United Nations system agencies at global, regional, and subregional levels.