ABU DHABI // Dust storms are becoming more frequent and human activity is at least partly to blame, say experts who gathered in the capital yesterday to search for ways to lessen the problem.
While dust storms are a natural occurrence, meteorologists agreed they could pose a greater problem in future if the cause of their increase was not addressed.
“What happened for the past three decades is that the frequency and the intensity of dust storms has increased,” said Dr Saad Mohalfi, Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).
“This is a big problem for the next generation.”
Technical experts from the six members of the GCC plus Iran, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey, are attending a two-day United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) conference. The summit aims to identify the region’s biggest problem areas and take steps to tackle the problem.
The UAE is one of the places where dust storms are becoming more frequent, said Dr Abdullah Al Mandoos, executive manager of the National Meteorology and Seismology Centre in Abu Dhabi.
Between 2007 and 2011, dust events at different layers of the atmosphere were recorded on 239 days. The highest number of dust events took place in 2008, when dust storms were recorded on 68 days. The lowest number, 32 days, was in 2010.
Scientists at the Abu Dhabi centre have studied satellite data over a decade and have identified areas in central Iraq, as well as in the border region between Iraq, Jordan and Syria as the main source of dust affecting the UAE.
A second source is the border region between Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, while the Empty Quarter is the third-largest source.
Dr Iyad Abumoghli, director and regional representative of Unep, said it was important to recognise that while causes for the increase need to be studied in detail, at least part of the increase was due to human activities.
“We are causing such phenomena, we are increasing their intensity and frequency,” Dr Abumoghli said. “We know for sure some ecosystems have been damaged due to human activities such as abandonment of agricultural lands and urbanisation.”
Affected countries could reduce the effect of dust storms by planting green belts around cities, but doing so in an arid region would increase water use.
The experts agreed that countries from the region need to cooperate to study the phenomenon in detail and agree to a joint strategy for tackling it. For Dr Abumoghli, this was a welcome development.
“There have never been sustained efforts to work together and identify the sources of such sand storms,” he said.
Unep is proposing a regional network of scientists working on the issue and “a financial mechanism to allow people to meet, discuss and share notes and then conduct pilot programmes”.