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Dust Disregards Political Boundaries, Let’s Act Together

Story highlights

  • Sand and dust storms (SDS) affect 151 countries and pose real threats to the lives, health, well-being and sustainable development of millions of people.
  • Governments are starting to act, but they need inspiration to work together.
  • Successful and collaborative actions on SDS contribute directly and indirectly to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In March this year, an unusual sand and dust storm nicknamed ‘Mars on Earth or Orange Snow transported and deposited dust that transformed European landscapes into a surreal orange-tinted scenery. An even more drastic dust storm swept over India recently and left behind a trail of casualties.Then in May, sand and salt storms transferred from the dry Aral Sea, known as the Aralkum Desert, covered some provinces and the capital city of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat. Cotton fields, orchards and pastures were covered with salt.

Such events alarm us about the magnitude and seriousness of this recurrent natural disaster. But why is it happening and what are the impacts of sand and dust storms?

Sand and dust storms (SDS) are often associated with just a few countries, such as China, Kuwait, and South Korea in Asia. But they affect 151 countries directly and pose real threats to the lives, health, well-being and sustainable development of millions of people.

Sand and dust storms gained serious global attention just three years ago because of the growing impacts of air pollution on health, the emergence of new sand and dust storm source areas and increasing damage and losses in some areas. It was the first time the global community signaled a readiness to take concrete action.

Considering the havoc recent dust storms have caused, in India for example, the public must capitalize on this momentum to get policy-makers to take bold and coordinated action and to engage the public in all affected countries. The next opportunity might be a regrettable moment, with epic catastrophic losses.

Air pollution is typically associated with the burning of fossil fuels. It is viewed as a relatively new environmental threat. In fact, extreme air pollution from sand and dust storms has existed for millennia. 

Governments are starting to act, but they need inspiration to work together.

Since 2015, the UN General Assembly has adopted three resolutions in a row to combat sand and dust storms. In 2016, the second session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-2) resolved to tackle sand and dust storms. Then, in 2017, the 13th session of Conference of the Parties to the UNCCD adopted its first decision on sand and dust storms. The Conference invited governments to take action based on the activities proposed in the Convention’s Policy Advocacy Framework on sand and dust storms.

The Framework sets out precautionary measures to minimize the negative impacts of sand and dust storms in the three key areas of early warning, resilience and preparedness, and source mitigation. In addition, countries that are potential sources of sand and dust storms need to explore this threat when considering their voluntary national targets for achieving land degradation neutrality (LDN).

LDN is a Sustainable Development Goal target (15.3) measuring the health of the land. The UNCCD is the custodian of the LDN target. The inclusion of the LDN concept in the UNCCD 2018-2030 Strategic Framework as a key tool for implementing the Convention strengthens its achievement. LDN can provide an effective framework to address anthropogenic sources in affected areas.

Last December, the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on sand and dust storms that calls for policy coordination of global actors and a UN system-wide approach and action plan to address these challenges.

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