Severity of Middle East sandstorms confronts Arab Gulf states with a daunting challenge

Special Severity of Middle East sandstorms confronts Arab Gulf states with a daunting challenge
Severe dust storms can reduce visibility to less than 200 meters. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 June 2022

Severity of Middle East sandstorms confronts Arab Gulf states with a daunting challenge

Severity of Middle East sandstorms confronts Arab Gulf states with a daunting challenge
  • Meteorological officials say climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of sand and dust storms
  • Regionwide afforestation projects aim to alleviate sandstorms’ negative effects on agriculture and human health

JEDDAH: For eons, large plumes of dust and sand sweeping across most of Saudi Arabia have been a natural, seasonal aspect of life. Though a common meteorological phenomenon in arid and semi-arid regions, in recent years scientists have been sounding the alarm over the adverse health and environmental effects of increasing dust storms, prompting Saudi authorities to face the challenges head-on.

The Middle East, Africa and the Arab Gulf are no strangers to sandstorms. They occur relatively close to the ground surface, but finer dust particles may be lifted miles into the atmosphere, where strong winds transport them long distances and across continents.

Saudi Arabia is a prime location for these extreme sandstorms, as it occupies almost the entire Arabian Peninsula, and is primarily desert with patches of rocky terrain in the west and central regions. The Kingdom also sits on a majority of the largest desert area in Asia, the Arabian Desert.

The vast expanse of sandy beige and red terrain stretching across the country leaves Saudi Arabia exposed to some of the harshest sandstorms arriving mainly from the north or west. These storms obscure vision, halt maritime and flight operations, close schools, and harm human health, while turning the cerulean blue skies an ominous orange.




Saudi Arabia’s position across the Arabian Peninsula makes it especially susceptible to sandstorms. (Reuters)

Last month, a transboundary sandstorm engulfed Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait and the UAE, sending thousands to hospital as the air filled with fine dust particles that are linked to asthma attacks and the spread of bacteria, viruses, toxins and more. Depending on the weather and climate conditions, dust can remain in the atmosphere for several days and travel great distances.

Some scientists say that climate change could increase sandstorm frequency and intensity. According to several studies, the Middle East witnesses one of three types of sandstorms approximately 30 percent of the year.

A reduction of visibility defines the sandstorms; blowing dust reduces visibility to a few feet for brief intervals, and horizontal visibility is less than 11 km. For dust storms, horizontal visibility is less than 1,000 meters, and for severe dust storms is less than 200 meters.

A 2019 study analyzed the Kingdom’s dust-storm occurrences by studying figure analysis from 27 observation stations provided by the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment, using data on spatial and temporal distribution of atmospheric dust between 2000-2016. The study noted a significant increase in occurrences, especially in the Eastern Province, with a clear seasonality in the incidence of dust and sand storms.

STORM CATEGORIES

• Blowing dust: Horizontal visibility is less than 11 km.

• Dust storm: Horizontal visibility is less than 1,000 meters.

• Severe dust storm: Horizontal visibility is less than 200 meters.

According to Hussain Al-Qahtani, Saudi Arabian National Center for Meteorology spokesman, the notable increase of sand and dust storms in the Eastern Province is due to its proximity and exposure to the northern winds that commonly hit the Kingdom.

“For over 40 years, the NCM has documented and monitored weather patterns and climate conditions in the Kingdom,” he told Arab News.

“The incidence and intensity of dust storms vary year by year and the World Meteorological Organization declared that the world is going through a turbulent time of extreme climate change. Dust storms with winds up to 45 km per hour for several days are a common phenomenon in the area, and are a result of this extreme global climate.”

When heavy torrential rains in late 2009 and early 2010 inundated Jeddah on Saudi Arabia’s western coast and caused mass floods, civil defense officials declared them to be the worst in over 25 years, prompting the launch by the NCM of a national weather-warning system connecting all relevant governing bodies.

The NCM now uses this system to warn of the possibility and intensity of incoming sandstorms. Green indicates that no severe weather is expected; yellow is “be aware,” amber “be prepared,” and red is “take action.”

Three key factors are responsible for the generation of sand and dust storms: Strong wind, lack of vegetation, and absence of rainfall, making the Kingdom the perfect environment for cross-border dust storms.

Their increasing frequency has taken its toll on the Middle East’s agricultural sector. Sandstorms reduce crop yields by burying seedlings under sand deposits, destroying plant tissue, and reducing the plant’s ability to carry out photosynthesis, which delays plant development.




Sand and dust storms have immediate threats to human health, especially for the young and the elderly, causing respiratory and skin problems. (Reuters)

Some of the most immediate and obvious effects of sand and dust storms are related to human health. Dr. Lamia Al-Ibrahim of the Saudi Red Crescent Authority says human exposure to dust and sandstorms poses a danger to overall health, especially for people with respiratory problems, including asthma, allergies and COPD, and can cause skin and eye irritation.

“Depending on the level of exposure, sand and dust storms in the Kingdom differ from one region to the next. Dust storms could worsen he health of individuals whether they have allergies or not,” she told Arab News. “With simple lifestyle changes, the effects can be minimized, but not prevented.”

Al-Ibrahim says exposure to dust and sand can exacerbate allergies, adding that several health, safety and environmental control strategies can be implemented to cushion communities from the negative impact of storms.

“Precautionary measures and medications such as antihistamines ahead of time can decrease the severity of infections. Though the best mechanism is to stay home, those who need to leave their homes should don face masks and wear glasses. Dust storms impact outdoor and indoor air quality and can trigger breathing problems and more due to one particle — silica,” she said.

FASTFACT

• Aeolian processes: Wind-driven emission, transportation and deposition of sand and dust by wind are termed after the Greek god Aeolus, the keeper of winds.

Most desert dust in the region is composed primarily of silica, exposure to which is a risk factor for several illnesses.

Wearing masks and glasses and staying inside are temporary solutions, leaving authorities to seek out more permanent and far-reaching ways to solve the dust problem. In terms of environmental strategies, afforestation has become a significant player when it comes to fighting issues faced as a result of climate change.

The Saudi Green Initiative, launched last March, aims to rehabilitate 40 million hectares of land over the coming decades, with 24 initiatives launched to plant 10 billion trees. The afforestation plan can improve air quality, reduce sandstorms, combat desertification, and lower temperatures in adjacent areas.

Similarly, the Middle East Green Initiative, the regional alliance and pact on climate change, has similar ambitious goals, aiming to plant 50 billion trees (10 billion in the Kingdom) across the Middle East and restore 200 million hectares of degraded land.




Sandstorms across the Middle East have delayed flights, closed schools and hospitalised thousands. (AFP)

Al-Ibrahim cautions that although afforestation effectively mitigates sand and dust storms, it is essential to know which trees to plant, as some could have adverse effects on human health.

“Some tree pollen can cause severe allergies. I was invited to participate in the Green Riyadh Project launch as a member of several environmental awareness groups and raised the issue of these trees, and a committee was established to specify the types of trees, plants and shrubs best suited for the area,” she told Arab News.

The Royal Commission of Riyadh has issued a plant guide book for the city which lists approximately 300 types of plants, shrubs and trees that are set to be planted.

“NCM’s research and studies contribute to providing data to relevant entities that need to understand how to face the challenges that arise from sand and dust storms, decrease the level of threats and work on solutions such as afforestation initiatives, taking preventive measures, or even increasing the accuracy of the information for the health and safety of citizens,” said Al-Qahtani.


Egyptian, Canadian ministers discuss cooperation

Egyptian, Canadian ministers discuss cooperation
Updated 13 sec ago

Egyptian, Canadian ministers discuss cooperation

Egyptian, Canadian ministers discuss cooperation
  • Sajjan said: “I was impressed by the Egyptian vision of empowering women.”

CAIRO: Nevin Al-Kabbaj, Egypt’s minister of social solidarity, met with Harjit Sajjan, Canada’s minister of international development, to discuss cooperation in various fields.
Al-Kabbaj reviewed her ministry’s programs and activities, including those focusing on the rights of women and the disabled.
Sajjan said: “I was impressed by the Egyptian vision of empowering women.”
Al-Kabbaj expressed her appreciation for the efforts of the Canadian Embassy and the Canadian Development Agency to support development in Egypt and her ministry’s economic-empowerment projects.


Egypt sends aid to flood-hit Sudan

Egypt sends aid to flood-hit Sudan
Updated 18 August 2022

Egypt sends aid to flood-hit Sudan

Egypt sends aid to flood-hit Sudan
  • Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed or damaged by torrential rains and floods, according to the Sudanese Civil Defense

CAIRO: Egypt has sent five military transport planes loaded with tons of relief aid to Sudan, where floods have killed 77 people and injured more than 30.

A spokesman for Egypt’s military said the aid comes “in the framework of Egypt’s support and solidarity with the brotherly Sudanese people.”

The aid includes tents, blankets, foodstuffs, medicines and medical supplies provided by the defense and health ministries.

Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed or damaged by torrential rains and floods, according to the Sudanese Civil Defense.

Heavy rains usually fall in Sudan between May and September, a period when the country experiences flash floods that damage housing, infrastructure and crops.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 38,000 people across Sudan have been affected by rains and floods since the start of this season.


Morocco: 13 migrants sent to prison for Spain crossing bid

Morocco: 13 migrants sent to prison for Spain crossing bid
Updated 18 August 2022

Morocco: 13 migrants sent to prison for Spain crossing bid

Morocco: 13 migrants sent to prison for Spain crossing bid
  • At least 23 died that day in what Moroccan authorities called a stampede
  • The Moroccan Association for Human Rights described the ruling as a “very harsh verdict”

RABAT, Morocco: A Moroccan court has sentenced 13 migrants, mostly from Sudan, to 2 and a half years in prison over a mass attempt to scale the border fence separating Morocco from the Spanish enclave of Melilla.
The decision Wednesday in the northern Moroccan city of Nador was the latest — and toughest — ruling handed down after dozens of people were arrested for the June 24 crossing attempt. At least 23 died that day in what Moroccan authorities called a stampede, as hundreds of people stormed the fence in a desperate bid to reach Europe.
The Moroccan Association for Human Rights described Wednesday’s ruling as a “very harsh verdict which shows how the judiciary was mobilized in the service of migration policies at the expense of asylum-seeking migrants.”
The 13 were convicted of various charges including illegal entry into Moroccan territory, violence against public officials, armed gathering, disobedience and joining a gang to organize and facilitate clandestine immigration abroad and arson. The court also ordered each of the defendants to pay 1,000 dirham (nearly $100).
Most of the 13 were from Sudan, and others were from Chad and South Sudan, according to activists who followed the case.
Last month, another Nador court sentenced 33 people to 11 months in prison over the June 24 crossing attempt. That court also sentenced 14 people earlier this month to eight months in prison in the same case.


Israeli forces kill Palestinian in West Bank clashes, medics say

Israeli forces kill Palestinian in West Bank clashes, medics say
Updated 18 August 2022

Israeli forces kill Palestinian in West Bank clashes, medics say

Israeli forces kill Palestinian in West Bank clashes, medics say
  • Witnesses said the clashes erupted when Israeli forces arrived to guard Jewish worshipers visiting Joseph’s Tomb
  • Palestine Red Crescent: Four Palestinians were shot and one of them was killed

JERUSALEM: Israeli forces killed a Palestinian in predawn clashes in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus on Thursday, Palestinian medics said. The Israeli army said he was armed and shooting at soldiers, something the Palestinians denied.
Witnesses said the clashes erupted when Israeli forces arrived to guard Jewish worshipers visiting Joseph’s Tomb, a Jewish shrine that has been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Four Palestinians were shot and one of them, an 18-year-old, was killed, the Palestine Red Crescent said. At least 30 Palestinians were wounded in all.
Later in the day, in a separate development, Israeli security forces raided seven non-governmental organizations in the West Bank, confiscating computers and equipment before sealing off the entrances, Palestinian witnesses and officials said.
This followed a decision by Israel to designate the groups as terrorist organizations, accusing them of funneling donor aid to Palestinian militants, a move that has drawn criticism from the United Nations and human rights watchdogs. The designation was ratified on Wednesday.
Nine European Union states have said they would continue working with the groups, citing a lack of evidence for the Israeli accusation.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz reiterated Israel’s position that the organizations had operated undercover to serve the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which has carried out deadly attacks on Israelis and is on US and EU terrorism blacklists.
“They also assist in raising funds for the terrorist organization via a variety of methods that include forgery and fraud,” Gantz said.
Hussein Al-Sheikh, a senior official in the Palestinian Authority, said on Twitter that the “storming of civil work institutions ... is a dangerous escalation and is an attempt to silence the voice of truth and justice.”
“We will appeal to all official international bodies and human rights institutions to intervene immediately to condemn this occupier behavior and place pressure on them to reopen the institutions and to be able to exercise their activities freely,” Sheikh said.


Iranian activists stand with woman jailed over hijab rule in viral video 

Iranian activists stand with woman jailed over hijab rule in viral video 
A few days after the video was shared, Rashno disappeared. (Social Media)
Updated 18 August 2022

Iranian activists stand with woman jailed over hijab rule in viral video 

Iranian activists stand with woman jailed over hijab rule in viral video 
  • The video expresses their solidarity to Sepideh Rashno, the 28-year-old Iranian writer and artist who was arrested for refusing to wear a headscarf

A video posted online by a group of Iranian female activists supporting a woman, who was arrested for violating Iran’s mandatory hijab rule, has gone viral days after she was seen confessing to the crime allegedly under duress, Radio Farda reported on Wednesday. 

Prominent Iranian activist Masih Alinejad shared a video online on Aug. 16, in which she and other female activists recited a poem entitled ‘The Confession’ by an anonymous poet. 

 

The poem expresses their solidarity to Sepideh Rashno, the 28-year-old Iranian writer and artist who was arrested on June 15 after a video of her arguing with another woman over her refusal to wear a headscarf was posted online. 

Mooniter, the pseudonym of one of the female activists who participated in the video to support Rashno, said the poem was aimed at “raising the voices of women like Sepideh” and “women and people who have been taken hostage in Iran,” according to Radio Farda. 

Rashno was riding a bus in Tehran without a hijab when a stranger took a video of her and threatened to send it to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Radio Farda reported.  

A few days after the video was shared, Rashno disappeared. Iranian state television then aired a clip of Rashno’s “confession” on July 30 where she appeared to be in a poor physical state, the report added.

The 28-year-old had allegedly been beaten prior to appearing on TV and was later hospitalized immediately after confessing to breaking the hijab law, according to reports.