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Sand and Dust Storms Risk Assessment in Asia and the Pacific

  • 01 Sep 2021
  • 4 min read

Why in News

According to a new United Nations (UN) report, more than 500 million people in India and more than 80% of the entire populations of Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran are exposed to medium and high levels of poor air quality due to sand and dust storms.

  • 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-easternTurkey, Iran and Afghanistan.

Key Points

  • Sand and Dust Storms:
    • About:
      • Sand and dust storms 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.
      • Some 40% of aerosols in the troposphere (the lowest layer of Earth’s atmosphere) are dust particles from wind erosion.
    • Main Sources:
      • The main sources of these mineral dusts 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.
  • Impacts:
    • Negative:
      • Impact on Power Plants:
        • They can interfere with energy infrastructure, adversely affecting electricity transmission lines and causing power outages.
        • India, China and Pakistan witnessed 1,584 gigawatt-hours (gWh), 679 gWh and 555 gHw of energy loss, respectively.
        • These losses amounted to over Rs. 782 crore for India per year.
      • Affect Source of Freshwater:
        • Very high dust deposition also occurs in the Himalaya-Hindu Kush mountain range and the Tibetan Plateau, the so-called ‘third pole’ that are the sources for fresh water for more than 1.3 billion people in Asia.
      • Increases Melting of Ice:
        • 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.
      • On Farmland:
        • Dust deposition impacted large portions of farmland in Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
          • Much of this dust is characterised by high salt content, making it toxic for plants.
        • It reduces yield, posing a significant threat to the production of irrigated cotton and other crops.
      • On Sustainable Development Goals (SDG):
        • They directly affect 11 of the 17 United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goals (SDG):
          • Ending poverty in all forms, Ending hunger, Good health and well-being, Affordable and clean energy, Decent work and economic growth, Climate action, etc.
    • Positive:
      • 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.
  • Suggestions:
    • Their impacts are complex, and thus, they represent an important emerging issue for policy-makers in the Asia-Pacific region.
    • Member States need to strategize their joint actions, considering gaining a deeper understanding of the socio-economic impact of sand and dust storms, establishing a coordinated monitoring and early warning system with an impact-based focus, and coordinating actions in most at-risk and exposed geographical areas to mitigate the risks.

Source: DTE

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