The Middle East has been the worst hit by significant rise in sand and dust storms, with major impacts on human health, scientists say. Iran and Kuwait are the most affected countries, largely because of sand and dust blowing in from Syria and Iraq. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has predicted here that Iraq could witness 300 dust events in a year within 10 years, up from around 120 per year now.
"One of the main sources of sand and dust storms is Iraq, where the flow of rivers has decreased because of dam constructions in upstream countries. "That has led to the disappearance of marshes and drying up of lakes both in Iraq and Iran, and the sediments left behind are very important sources of dust in the region."
Deserts have always been the source of sand storms in the region, but scientists say climate change, unsustainable mining, oil extraction and diverting water for use in agriculture are worsening the situation.
Meteorologists say sand and dust storms are also happening in new places like some unlikely parts of Central Asia. The dust and sand from Mongolia and the Gobi desert reach China, the Korean peninsula and Japan, where they have already caused major health concerns.
Storms from the Sahara desert are also believed to be spreading lethal meningitis spores throughout central Africa. "A dust storm consists of massive amount of particulates in the air and when people breathe it, these can get down their lungs and cause respiratory illness and heart disease and so on," said a health and climate change expert with the World Health Organisation.
The WHO has said dust storms contribute to poor air quality that is blamed for the death of 7 million people every year.
What can be done to lessen the problem, one could ask. Tree planting can help: China has reduced the frequency and intensity of dust storms, research suggests. By 2050 China will have planted more than 100 billion trees. Senegal has planted 12 million trees covering 40,000 hectares as part of a pan-African scheme to combat desertification in the Sahel.