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Addressing Sand and Dust Storms in SDG Implementation

Sand and dust storms pose a major challenge to sustainable development in arid and semi-arid regions of the planet. They occur when strong or very turbulent winds blow over dry, unvegetated soils and lift loose particles from the Earth’s surface to the atmosphere. The concentration of airborne particles increases rapidly, and the visibility drops to a few meters. Their main scenes are the belt of tropical and subtropical deserts of the Northern hemisphere, stretching from the Sahara through the Middle East to the Great Indian Desert, as well as the mid-latitude deserts of Central Asia and China-Mongolia. These regions need to be in the forefront of efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 (life on land) by combating desertification, and halting and reversing land degradation.

About 2,000 tons of particles are emitted annually to the atmosphere, where the finer fraction may be transported downwind over long distances, even across continents. The energetic implementation of SDG 3 on ensuring healthy lives is essential for reducing the harm that these particles cause to human health. Sand and dust storms are also detrimental for ecosystems and diverse socio-economic sectors, although dust, especially once deposited back to the Earth’s surface, also has positive environmental impacts, since it provides nutrients to terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems, boosting primary productivity.

The scientific community is aware that a significant part of the dust emission is the consequence of human-induced factors, such as poor agricultural practices or land and water mismanagement. This relationship demonstrates the clear links among the SDGs on sustainable agriculture, clean water, climate change and human health. Reducing the harmful impacts of sand and dust storms will require making progress on each of these Goals.

It should be noted that there is still a great deal of uncertainty about the share of dust emissions attributable to human factors in the overall total. There are also contradictory conclusions about the long-term trend of dust emissions, especially in relation to land use and climate change.

The challenge of sand and dust storms is one where science has a clear and essential role in supporting policies for sustainable development. It is very important to enhance national, regional and international cooperation and partnerships to observe, predict, mitigate and cope with the adverse effects of sand and dust storms, and seek support from UN agencies to meet the relevant SDGs.

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Follow the latest publication "Sand and Dust Storms: Impact Mitigation" (Middleton, N., & Kang, U. (2017). Sand and Dust Storms: Impact Mitigation. Sustainability, 9(6), 1053.)

Sand and dust storms (SDS) play an integral role in the Earth system but they also present a range of hazards to the environmental and economic sustainability of human society. These hazards are of considerable importance for residents of dryland environments and also affect people beyond drylands because wind erosion can occur in most environments and desert dust events often involve long-range transport over great distances (>1000 km). This paper makes an assessment of the scale of SDS impacts by totalling the countries affected using an appraisal of peer-reviewed published sources, arriving at a conservative estimate that 77% of all parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) are affected directly by SDS issues.

We then present a synthesis of the environmental management techniques designed to mitigate SDS hazards for disaster risk reduction and review policy measures, both historical and contemporary, for SDS impact mitigation. Although many SDS hazards are well-known, the processes involved and their impacts are not all equally well-understood. Policies designed to mitigate the impacts of wind erosion in agricultural areas have been developed in certain parts of the world but policies designed to mitigate the wider impacts of SDS, including many that are transboundary, are geographically patchy and have a much shorter history. Further development and wider implementation of such policies is advocated because of the recent marked increase in wind erosion and associated dust storms in several parts of the world.