Sand and dust storms

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Sand and dust storms (SDS), also known as sirocco, haboob, yellow dust, white storms, and the harmattan, are a natural phenomenon linked with land and water management and climate change. They are a combination of different hazards, such as sand, dust and wind. The fluctuation in their intensity, magnitude or interaction with each other is what can make them unpredictable and dangerous. 

Some 151 UNCCD country Parties or 77 per cent are affected directly by SDS and 45 country Parties (or 23 per cent) are classified as SDS source areas. Most locations are in the low-latitude drylands, but dust sources can develop in almost any environment, often through human influence. Important potential drivers of future wind erosion and SDS occurrence include desertification, land degradation and climate change, high latitudes, industrial activities, especially due to unsustainable land and water management,  more extreme wind events, greater aridity in some areas, and greater drought frequency, severity and duration. 

SDS have significant socio-economic impacts on human health, agriculture, industry, transportation, water and air quality. For instance, dust can cause damage to lungs and worsen the symptoms of bronchitis and respiratory diseases such as asthma. Globally, 334 million people and 14 per cent of world’s children experience asthmatic symptoms. In addition, dust storms can transport pathogens such as meningitis and valley fever. 

SDS have significant socio-economic impacts on human health, agriculture, industry, transportation, water and air quality.


Important progress was made at the UNCCD COP 14 held in New Delhi, India, to address this growing concern. The UNCCD Parties adopted a new decision on SDS (decision 25/COP.14) highlighting a proactive approach to enhance cooperation and coordination at global, regional and subregiional levels.  By the decision, Parties needs to (i) integrate mitigation measures into the subnational, national and regional implementation of the Convention; (ii) enhance preparedness and resilience of vulnerable ecosystems and populations to the adverse and negative impacts of SDS; and (iii) strengthen multi-stakeholder platforms and regional initiatives that contribute to addressing SDS. 

During COP 14, the SDS Day event held as part of the Rio Conventions Pavilion on 6 September provided a platform that facilitates information exchange and knowledge sharing on existing and new initiatives and commitments at regional and global levels . Key discussions were made on the methodological framework to refine the Global SDS Source Base-map. The Global SDS Source Base-map has been developing by the UNCCD secretariat in collaboration with UNEP and WMO. The Global SDS Source Base-map will be refined to enhance accuracy with an aim to provide basis information for policy development and implementation including risk and vulnerability assessment, modeling, forecasting and early warning, impact and source mitigation. New initiatives and approaches were discussed showcasing the potential to harness regional cooperation and coordinated actions on the ground. 

SDS coalition

The United Nations Coalition on Combating SDS was launched at COP 14. The UN Coalition was established in response to the United Nations General Assembly resolution 72/225  in 2017 through the efforts made by UNEP. Currently 15 Members of the Coalition include: UNEP, WMO, UNCCD, UNITAR, ICAO, UNDP, UN-Habitat, WHO, ESCAP, ESCWA, IUCN, FAO, World Bank, ITU and UNECE. The key objectives of the Coalition include

  • Preparing a global response to SDS, including a strategy and action plan, which could result in development of a United Nations system-wide approach to addressing SDS
  • Identifying entry points to support countries and regions affected by SDS in the implementation of cross-sectoral and transboundary risk reduction and response measures for SDS
  • Preparing a platform for engaging with partners and enhancing dialogue and collaboration among affected countries and the United Nations system agencies at global, regional, and subregional levels;
  • Providing a common platform for the exchange of knowledge, 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
  • Identifying, mobilizing and facilitating access to financial resources for joint responses to SDS, including through new and innovative resources and mechanisms.

The UNCCD supports countries in the mitigation of SDS impacts and anthropogenic dust sources by advocating the following three pillars approach:

Early warning systems

Early warning is a critical part of in the SDS impact mitigation. It should enhance the ability of countries to deliver timely, quality SDS forecasts, observations, information and knowledge to users. Joint efforts in monitoring SDS among research and operational communities is needed to contribute to early warning, taking into consideration harmonization of observation systems and data among stakeholders, including ground meteorological networks, air quality monitoring stations, and use of satellite data

Preparedness and resilience

Institutional capacity for coordinated and harmonized SDS policy development and implementation is a precursor to SDS risk reduction and impact mitigation. SDS should be fully integrated into multi-hazard management plans for disaster risk at all levels and across all sectors.. The SDS management plans need to include coordinated emergency response measures and strategies across sectors based on systematic impact/vulnerability/risk mapping/assessment

Anthropogenic source mitigation

Source mitigation may be the only way to reduce dust emission. Source area mitigation strategies must be based on up-to-date scientific information on the character of source areas, particularly the nature and degree of anthropogenic influence. Appropriate techniques that already exist at national and regional levels as part of sustainable land management need to be identified and scaled up, taking into account the synergies among Rio Conventions and related mechanisms and initiatives. Under the UNCCD, SDS source area mitigation practices need to be integrated into national efforts as part of the overarching goal of achieving land degradation neutrality

The activities can be further strengthened through focused activity to fill the key SDS knowledge gaps, appropriate resources allocation, and regional cooperation. This includes the development of the SDS Compendium: Information and Guidance on Assessing and Addressing the Risks posed by the SDS, the Global SDS Source Base-map and the SDS Toolbox.