Mitigating the Effects of Sand and Dust Storms

Sand and dust storms cause significant negative impacts on society, economy and environment at local, regional and global scale.  There are three key factors responsible for the generation of sand and dust storms – strong wind, lack of vegetation and absence of rainfall. The environmental and health hazards of such storms cannot be reduced permanently, however its impact can be reduced by taking appropriate measures.

As the dust cloud rises, it reduces the horizontal visibility which can impact human life in many ways. The fine suspended particles also contain contaminants, bacteria, pollens, which cause negative health impacts such as allergies and respiratory diseases. Dust also carries air borne pollutants such as toxins, heavy metals, salt, sulphur, pesticides etc which cause significant health impacts when people inhale the contaminated dust.  Dust can corrode buildings and other built infrastructure as it contains high level of salts, especially in the GCC countries. The major impacts of sand and dust storms are listed below:

Environmental and Health Impacts

  • Poor air quality – This is due to increase in contaminant loads and dangerously high level of breathable suspended particles in the air during sand and dust storms.
  • Increase in environmental hazards relating to transportation, building and health.
  • Dust deposition on landscape can cause drying of leaves, retard the growth of plant and cause damage to crops.
  • Suspended dust particles in water can obstruct the penetration of sunlight into the sea floor and hence affect marine life cycle.

Social Impacts

  • Ill heath from inhalation of fine suspected dust particles and pollutants present in the dust
  • Road accidents and aviation hazards due to poor visibility
  • Delay in landing and take-off of air flights and restricted ship movement
  • Increase in stress associated with crop damage

Economic Impacts

  • Damage to physical structures such as buildings, roads, swimming pools etc. due to dust deposition
  • Costs associated with cleaning of infiltrated dust inside the house and building and cleaning of vehicles
  • Cost of removing sand from road and buildings
  • Costs associated with accidents, material loss, delay in flights, delay in movement of vehicles,
  • Costs associated with clearing of buried construction infrastructure such as oil pipelines due to sand and dust during the storms

Reducing the Effect of Sand and Dust Storms

The effects of sand and dust storms can be reduced by using a number of health & safety measures and environmental control strategies.  Large-scale sand and dust storms are generally natural phenomena and it may not be always practicable to prevent it happening. However, control measures can be taken to reduce its impacts. Localised small-scale dust emission due to human induced activities can be reduced by using temporary mechanical methods such as concrete barrier, mulching, tree buffer etc.  

  • Take appropriate control of dust raising factors such as increasing the vegetation cover where possible. It helps in stabilization of the soil, sand dunes and form windbreaks.
  • Use of native plants and trees as buffer can reduce wind velocity and sand drifts at the same increase the soil moisture
  • Design buildings appropriately and conduct air infiltration testing during building commissioning.

Some health and safety measures that should be taken to minimise the adverse impacts due to the dust storm are:

  • Take extra precautionary measures for vulnerable population group such as children, elderly and sick people.
  • Use dust masks – Dust masks have filters which can filter out small particles and contaminants. Hence, mask should be used during the dust storms. Put a wet towel or tissue on the nose and mouth and drink lots of fluid.
  • Clean your face, nose and mouth frequently to prevent any dust entering into lungs and inhale some water through your nose in order to clean the nose of dust particles.
  • Close the doors and windows tightly, pulling all curtains up and put wet towels on the small holes that may be round windows
  • Restricting outdoor activities and staying inside the house.

 

References

  • Speer MS (2013) Dust storm frequency and impact over Eastern Australia determined by state of Pacific climate system. Weather and Climate Extremes, Vol 2, page 16-21.
  • Shivakumar MVK (2005) Impact of sand storms/ dust storms on agriculture.  Natural Disasters and Extreme Events in Agriculture. Publisher – Springer eBook, page  159-177.
  • Mohammad, Mohammad-Shafi Abdullah (1989) Dust storm phenomena and their environmental impacts in Kuwait, PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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About Sunanda Swain

Sunanda Swain works as an environmental and sustainability consultant in Dubai, UAE. Previously, she worked in various areas including manufacturing, government environmental agency, and environmental consultancies for over 10 years in Australia. Sunanda worked in various projects in areas of environmental management such as environmental approvals and permits, compliance audits and due diligence, environmental impact assessment, environmental management plans, environmental monitoring and reporting, energy assessment, waste management and natural resource management plans and policies etc. She is an accredited green building consultant as well as IRCA certified auditor for ISO 14001.
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