Eye of the storm
SDS are defined as storms caused by strong winds over dry land areas that take large amounts of soil material into the atmosphere.
An estimated two tons of sand and dust enter the atmosphere every year, according to the UN Coalition to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). These particles can travel hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles when carried by air.
Increasing desertification as a result of human-driven activity, has led to an increase in hurricanes, making the need for international action to reduce their destructive effects even more urgent.
SDS threatens the environment, agriculture, human health, and transportation infrastructure, all of which could complicate the effort to reach the internationally agreed UN Development Goals (SDGs), especially in Africa and the Middle East where desertification is common.
The high amount of particulate matter in the atmosphere can also cause heart diseases, eye and skin irritation as well as respiratory diseases such as meningitis which can spread easily. The effects of SDS on agriculture further threaten the food security of populations already struggling with severe desertification and drought.
On the way up
Issues related to climate change are increasing the frequency and intensity of SDS. In some regions, in fact, the amount of sand and dust particles in the atmosphere doubled between 1900 and 2000. This trend continues as human-induced climate change continues to worsen.
A global concern
The growing concerns led the UN General Assembly to proclaim 12 July 2023 as the first ever International Day of Combatting Sands and Dust Storms.
Through educational and public awareness campaigns the UN seeks to develop sustainable strategies for agriculture and land management, increase food security, and help combat climate change.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) advocates for sustainable agricultural practices and reforestation programs to reduce the threat. FAO is leading a coalition of 19 UN agencies and non-UN partner organizations to drive action and help countries affected by SDS by identifying risks and implementing strategies to prevention and mitigation.
The UNCCD used the inaugural International Day as an opportunity to publish a resource toolbox, providing information and guidance to areas severely affected by SDS. The toolbox works by assessing risk, providing forecasting assistance, and developing mitigation strategies for at-risk communities.
In addition, representatives of the 19 SDS Coalition States met on Wednesday to celebrate the Day by discussing ways to strengthen cooperation in regional initiatives.
The meeting emphasized the importance of regional cooperation which is essential in responding to the international nature of sand and dust storms.
“We welcome the focus and efforts to raise awareness of this serious event,” said the UNCCD’s Executive Secretary, Ibrahim Thiaw. “It shows how desertification and drought can have far-reaching effects beyond national borders and highlights the important role of cooperation in solving these issues.”