These storms are a natural occurrence, increasing during drier seasons as sand and dust accumulates. However, the frequency is rising due to poor land and water management, drought, and climate change according to experts from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
The body suggests that over 25% of the problem is a result of human activities, with the shifting sand causing more than one million square kilometres of workable land lost annually.
In areas where the dust is lofted by winds, crops, livestock, and topsoil is negatively affected. As the dust travels, it enters the atmosphere and reaches areas with already poor air quality, worsening respiratory diseases.
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Some countries are already taking steps to protect against such storms. This includes the Great Green Wall in China, a project to plant a wall of trees designed to capture sand and dust from the Gobi Desert before it reaches major cities, as well as halting the expansion of the desert.
In the UK and Ireland, we are most often impacted by dust from the Saharan Desert, which can travel north and result in vibrant sunrises and sunsets.
These events also create greater amounts of air pollution in our countries as the sand is pushed north in southerly wind patterns.