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Challenges posed by sand and dust storms

GS Paper 1/ 3

 Syllabus: Geophysical phenomena/Climate/Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation


Source: DTE

 Context: According to the UN, sand and dust storms (SDS) have increased dramatically in frequency and severity in recent years.


What is SDS?

  • They are common meteorological hazards in arid and semi-arid regions, usually caused by thunderstorms/ strong pressure gradients associated with cyclones, which increase wind speed over a wide area.
  • These strong winds lift large amounts of sand and dust from bare, dry soils into the atmosphere, transporting them hundreds to thousands of km away.



  • On weather/climate/environment:
    • Dust particles act as condensation nuclei for cloud formation affecting the amount and location of precipitation.
    • Airborne dust functions in a manner similar to the greenhouse effect, which affects the energy reaching the Earth’s surface.
    • SDS are recurring environmental phenomena which reduce air quality, and visibility.
  • On human health:
    • Particles larger than 10 μm are not breathable, and thus can only damage external organs.
    • Particles smaller than 10 μm, often get trapped in the nose, mouth and upper respiratory tract, and thus can be associated with respiratory disorders such as asthma, etc.
  • On the land and marine ecosystems:
    • Surface dust deposits are a source of micronutrients for both continental and maritime ecosystems. For example, Saharan dust is thought to fertilise the Amazon rainforest.
    • But dust also has many negative impacts on agriculture/food security, including
      • Reducing crop yields by burying seedlings,
      • Causing loss of plant tissue,
      • Reducing photosynthetic activity and
      • Increasing soil erosion.


Primary hotspots of the dust storm are:


  • Sahara Desert,
  • Middle East,
  • Taklamakan Desert in northwest China,
  • Southwest Asia,
  • Central Australia,
  • Etosha and Makgadikgadi basins of southern Africa,
  • Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia and
  • Great Basin in the US


Concerns raised by the UN:

  • Around 2 million tonnes of sand and dust enter the atmosphere annually.
  • SDS often originate in dryland areas, which cover 41% of the Earth’s land surface and comprise some of the most fragile ecosystems, highly susceptible to global climate change.
  • Human-induced climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of SDS.
  • The impact of SDS is felt in all regions of the world, both in developed and developing countries.
  • The growing intensity and frequency of SDS present a formidable challenge to achieving SDGs.
  • SDS are linked to at least 11 of 17 SDGs. These include –
    • SDG 1 on ending poverty,
    • SDG 2 on ending hunger,
    • SDG 3 on health for all,
    • SDG 6 on water and sanitation,
    • SDG 8 on inclusive and sustainable economic growth,
    • SDG 11 on sustainable cities,
    • SDG 13 on climate action and
    • SDG 15 focuses on combating desertification, land degradation.
  • These will especially affect Africa and the Middle East where desertification is most common.
  • However, the global recognition of SDS as a hazard is generally low.


Steps taken/needed:

  • The UN General Assembly recognised (in 2015) that SDS pose a great challenge to the sustainable development of affected countries and regions.
  • The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) observed the first-ever International Day of Combatting Sand and Dust Storms on July 12, 2023.
  • Achieving SDGs ⇄ Reducing the occurrence and impact of SDS in affected areas.
  • Arresting land degradation:

  • The SDS policy and planning should reduce societal vulnerability by mitigating the effects of wind erosion.
  • A multi-sectoral process bolstered by information-sharing should involve short-and long-term interventions, engage multiple stakeholders and raise awareness of SDS.


Conclusion: Addressing SDS requires an integrated approach, which involves sustainable land management, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and disaster risk reduction including early warning systems and international cooperation.


Insta Links:

Sand and dust storms


Mains Links:

Discuss how dust storms are formed. Examine the impact of climate change on the formation of dust storms.