Global Assessment of Sand and Dust Storms
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has published the “Global Assessment of Sand and Dust Storms”, jointly written by UNEP, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). The report, with foreword by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, has been included in the documentation of the 71st session of the UN General Assembly.
Large sand and dust storms, which result from a combination of strong winds and loose dry soil surfaces in arid and semiarid areas, are detrimental to human health, agricultural land, infrastructure, and transport. Every year, an estimated 2,000 million tons of dust is emitted into the atmosphere. While much of this is a natural part of the biogeochemical cycles of the Earth, a significant amount is generated by human-induced factors, especially unsustainable land and water management.
However, there is considerable uncertainty about whether sand and dust storms are increasing in intensity and frequency and how much is due to human causes. There is also need for greater clarity on the role that climate change is playing and how changes in dust emissions due to land use and climate change may impact the atmosphere, climate and oceans in the future. Policymakers and other stakeholders need more information on what can be done to reduce the frequency and intensity of sand and dust storms and to protect infrastructure and human health from their effects.
The Global Assessment is a significant contribution to our understanding, synthesizing the latest scientific information on the causes of sand and dust storms and their consequences for human and environmental well-being. it summarizes the latest knowledge on predicting them and reducing their impact.
Given the dominance of natural sources of dust and uncertainty regarding future dust emissions, the report stresses the importance of protective measures, which include enhancing monitoring, prediction and early warning systems, and improving preparedness and emergency response. To reduce anthropogenic sources of sand and dust storms, the Assessment recommends integrated strategies that promote sustainable land and water management in cropland, rangelands, deserts and urban areas, and climate change mitigation.
The report proposes a consolidated and coordinated global policy for responding to sand and dust storms, integrated and synergistic actions across sectors, and strengthened cooperation among global institutions. These measures are integral to the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They can contribute to improved public health, more liveable towns and cities and more sustainable rural areas. They can help combat climate change, conserve oceans, and protect terrestrial ecosystems, thereby helping to reduce poverty and protect economic growth.
I commend this report to all Governments and stakeholders engaged in reducing the occurrence and impact of sand and dust storms and working to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.