Sand and dust storms

Sand and dust storms (SDS), also known as sirocco, haboob, yellow dust, white storms, and the harmattan, are a natural phenomenon linked with land and water management and climate change. They are a combination of different hazards, such as sand, dust and wind. The fluctuation in their intensity, magnitude or interaction with each other is what can make them unpredictable and dangerous. 

Some 151 UNCCD country Parties (or 77 per cent)are affected directly by SDS and 45 country Parties (or 23 per cent) are classified as SDS source areas. Most locations are in the low-latitude drylands, but dust sources can develop in almost any environment, often through human influence. Unsustainable use or agricultural land, deforestation, overgrazing, high latitudes, depletion of water sources and industrial activities can all trigger SDS. 

SDS have socio-economic impacts on human health, agriculture, industry, transportation, water & air quality. For instance, dust can cause damage to lungs and worsen the symptoms of bronchitis and respiratory diseases such as asthma. Globally, 334 million people and 14 per cent of world’s children experience asthmatic symptoms. In addition, just storms can transport pathogens such as meningitis and valley fever. 

There has been a growing concern in recent years over the increase in the frequency and intensity of SDS in some areas. The Global Assessment of Sand and Dust Storms reports concluded that 25 per cent of global dust is anthropogenic emission. Important potential drivers of future wind erosion and SDS occurrence include desertification, land degradation and climate change, especially due to unsustainable land and water use, more extreme wind events, greater aridity in some areas, and greater drought frequency, severity and duration. 

The UNCCD supports countries in the mitigation of SDS impacts and anthropogenic dust sources by advocating the following three pillars approach:

  1. Early warning systems: Early warning is a critical part of in the SDS impact mitigation. It should enhance the ability of countries to deliver timely, quality SDS forecasts, observations, information and knowledge to users. Joint efforts in monitoring SDS among research and operational communities is needed to contribute to early warning, taking into consideration harmonization of observation systems and data among stakeholders, including ground meteorological networks, air quality monitoring stations, and use of satellite data.  
  2. Preparedness and resilience: Institutional capacity for coordinated and harmonized SDS policy development and implementation is a precursor to SDS risk reduction and impact mitigation. SDS should be fully integrated into multi-hazard management plans for disaster risk at all levels and across all sectors.. The SDS management plans need to include coordinated emergency response measures and strategies across sectors based on systematic impact/vulnerability/risk mapping/assessment. 
  3. Anthropogenic source mitigation: Source mitigation may be the only way to reduce dust emission. Source area mitigation strategies must be based on up-to-date scientific information on the character of source areas, particularly the nature and degree of anthropogenic influence. Appropriate techniques that already exist at national and regional levels as part of sustainable land management need to be identified and scaled up, taking into account the synergies among Rio Conventions and related mechanisms and initiatives. Under the UNCCD, SDS source area mitigation practices need to be integrated into national efforts as part of the overarching goal of achieving land degradation neutrality. 

The activities can be further strengthened through focused scientific research to fill the key SDS knowledge gaps, appropriate resources allocation, and regional cooperation.