New international coalition to combat sand and dust storms

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A new international coalition has been launched to strengthen coordinated action on sand and dust storms, which have damaging impacts on human health, the environment and key economic sectors in many countries around the world.

WMO is one of the partners in the coalition, which includes the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Environment (UNEP), UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Bank - among other institutions.

It was launched at the UNCCD Conference of the Parties in New Delhi on 6 September.

Sand and dust storms are a phenomena severely and increasingly affecting 151 countries- areas in Africa, Asia, North America and Australia, tweeted UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw. “It is a global crisis.”

The move, spearheaded by the UN Environment Management Group, comes in response to UN General Assembly resolutions requesting more coordination between the efforts of various UN bodies in combating sand and dust storms and involving country institutions.

WMO action

WMO was one of the first UN Agencies, that started addressing the problem of sand and dust storms. Since 2007 WMO and partners have implemented a Sand and Dust Storm Warning Advisory and Assessment System (SDS-WAS). This enhances the ability of countries to deliver timely, quality sand and dust storm forecasts, observations, information and knowledge to users through an international partnership of research and operational communities.

The WMO SDS-WAS is a global federation of partners organized around regional nodes. It integrates research and user communities from, for instance, the health, aeronautical and agricultural sectors.

Presently there are three regional nodes: the Northern Africa-Middle East-Europe Node (with its Center hosted by Spain), the Asian Node (with its Center hosted by China) and the Pan-American Node (hosted by Barbados and the USA).

In order to develop the operational component of SDS-WAS and to transfer it from the research phase to the operational services in February 2014, WMO established the Barcelona Dust Forecast Center, which operationally generates and distributes forecasts for North Africa, Middle East and Europe. 

In May 2017, WMO approved the second operational center for Asia, hosted by the China Meteorological Administration. A recent two-year review showed that the regional centre has extended the sand and dust forecast time span from 3 days to 5 days, with a higher spatial resolution. The forecast area is expanded from domestic areas to Asian areas, with forecast accuracy up from 60% to 80%.

Sand and dust storms are common meteorological hazards in arid and semi-arid regions. They are usually caused by thunderstorms – or 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, and may transport them hundreds to thousands of kilometres away. The main sources of these mineral dusts are the arid regions of Northern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia and China. Comparatively, Australia, America and South Africa make minor, but still important, contributions. Global estimates of dust emissions, mainly derived from simulation models, vary between one and three Gigatons per year. 

Coalition objectives

These include:

  • Prepare a global response to SDS, including a strategy and an action plan, which could result in the development of a United Nations system-wide approach to addressing SDS. Identifying entry points to support SDS-affected countries and regions in the implementation of cross-sectoral, and transboundary risk reduction and response measures for SDS1 .
  • Provide a forum for engaging with partners and enhancing dialogue and collaboration among affected countries and the UN system agencies at global, regional and subregional level.
  • Provide a common platform for exchange of knowledge, data, information and technical expertise and resources for strengthening preparedness measures and strategies for risk reduction, consolidated policy, innovative solutions, advocacy and capacity building efforts, and fund-raising initiatives.
  • Identify, mobilize and facilitate access to financial resources for joint responses to sand and dust storms

The new coalition will harmonize the efforts of various UN bodies in order to realise the most effective way in combating sand and dust storms and reducing duplicated efforts. It will have five different working groups

  1. Forecasting and early warning: WMO, UN Environment
  2. Health and safety: WHO, WMO
  3. Policy and governance: UNCCD, UN Environment
  4. Mediation and regional collaboration: Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, UN Economic Commission for Europe and other regional commissions
  5. Adaptation and mitigation: UNDP, UNCCD, FAO, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (co-lead).

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