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UNCCD COP14: New global coalition to combat sand and dust storms

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A new global coalition to combat sand and dust storms was launched at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification Conference of Parties (UNCCD COP14) meeting in Delhi recently.

Sand and dust storms—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. The fluctuation in their intensity, magnitude or interaction with each other is what can make them unpredictable and dangerous.

Forty-five countries are classified by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification as sources of these storms and many others are directly affected.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP), following calls by Member States, contributed to the establishment and early achievements of the coalition, created in September 2018, through the UN Environment Management Group. Following its launch, the coalition aims to:

  • Prepare a global response which could be used to develop a UN system-wide approach
  • Develop a strategy and action plan to identify entry points for supporting affected countries and regions to implement response measures
  • Provide a forum for engaging partners and enhancing dialogue and collaboration among affected countries and UN agencies at global, regional, and sub-regional levels
  • Provide a common platform for exchange of knowledge, data, resources, information and technical expertise
  • Strengthen preparedness measures and strategies for risk reduction, consolidate policy, innovative solutions, advocacy and capacity-building efforts, and fundraising initiatives
  • Identify and mobilize financial resources for joint responses to sand and dust storms.

Unsustainable use of agricultural land, deforestation, overgrazing, depletion of water sources and industrial activities can all trigger sand and dust storms. The storms have socio-economic impacts on human health, agriculture, industry, transportation, water and air quality. Dust can cause damage to lungs and worsen the symptoms of bronchitis and respiratory diseases such as asthma.

There has been growing concern in recent years over the increase in the frequency and intensity of sand and dust storms in some areas. The Global Assessment of Sand and Dust Storms reports concluded that 25 per cent of global dust is due to human activity.

Important potential drivers of sand and dust storms 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.