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Sand and dust storm frequency increasing in many world regions, UN warns

Two billion tons of sand and dust, equal in weight to 350 Great Pyramids of Giza, enter the atmosphere every year; UNCCD experts attribute over 25% of the problem to human activities Wreaks havoc from Northern and Central Asia to sub-Saharan Africa; Health impacts poorly understood Sand and dust storms are an underappreciated problem now “dramatically” more frequent in some places worldwide, with at least 25% of the phenomenon attributed to human activities, according to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Accompanied by policy recommendations, the warning comes as a five-day meeting takes place in Samarkand, Uzbekistan to take stock of global progress in the Convention’s implementation.  The UNCCD is one of three Conventions originated at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The other two address climate change (UNFCCC) and biodiversity (UN CBD). The meeting, 13-17 November (https://www.unccd.int/cric21), includes a high-level session on 15 November hosted by the Government of Uzbekistan on ways to address the impacts of sand and dust storms on global agriculture, industry, transportation, water and air quality, and human health. Says Ibrahim Thiaw, UNCCD’s Executive Secretary: “The sight of rolling dark clouds of sand and dust engulfing everything in their path and turning day into night is one of nature’s most intimidating spectacles.  It is a costly phenomenon that wreaks havoc everywhere from Northern and Central Asia to sub-Saharan Africa.” “Sand and dust storms present a formidable challenge to achieving sustainable development. However, just as sand and dust storms are exacerbated by human activities, they can also be reduced through human actions,” adds Thiaw. While sand and dust storms (SDS) are a regionally common and seasonal natural phenomenon, the problem is exacerbated by poor land and water management, droughts, and climate change, according to UNCCD experts. And fluctuations in their intensity, magnitude, or duration “can make SDS unpredictable and dangerous.” With impacts far beyond the source regions, an estimated 2 billion tons of sand and dust now enters the atmosphere every year, an amount equal in weight to 350 Great Pyramids of Giza.  In some areas, desert dust doubled in the last century. “Sand and dust storms (SDS) have become increasingly frequent and severe having substantial transboundary impacts, affecting various aspects of the environment, climate, health, agriculture, livelihoods and the socioeconomic well-being of individuals.  The accumulation of impacts from sand and dust storms can be significant,” says Feras Ziadat, Technical Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), Chair of the UN Coalition on Combating Sand and Dust Storms. “In source areas, they damage crops, affect livestock, and strip topsoil. In depositional areas atmospheric dust, especially in combination with local industrial pollution, can cause or worsen human health problems such as respiratory diseases. Communications, power generation, transport, and supply chains can also be disrupted by low visibility and dust-induced mechanical failures. The United Nations Coalition on Combating Sand and Dust Storms, currently chaired by FAO, was created in 2019 to lead global efforts to tackle SDS.” In their Sand and Dust Storms Compendium and accompanying SDS Toolbox (https://www.unccd.int/land-and-life/sand-and-dust-storms/toolbox), UNCCD, FAO and partners offer guidance on approaches and methodologies for collecting and assessing SDS data, monitoring and early warning, impact mitigation and preparedness, and source mapping and anthropogenic source mitigation at sub-national, national, regional and global levels. The SDS discussion forms part of the agenda of this year’s meeting in Uzbekistan of the UNCCD’s Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 21) and global progress in delivering the Convention’s strategic objectives. It marks the first time since its establishment that UNCCD has convened one of its most significant meetings in Central Asia. The meeting comes at a critical juncture, as recent statistics published via UNCCD’s new data dashboard (https://data.unccd.int/) shows the world now losing nearly 1 million square kilometers of healthy and productive land every year – some 4.2 million square kilometers between 2015-2019, or roughly the combined area of five Central Asian nations: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. During the meeting (at 18:00 local time / 13:00 GMT, Tuesday 14 November) UNCCD and FAO experts will launch three reports: Sand and dust storms. A guide to mitigation, adaptation, policy and risk management measures in agriculture Contingency planning process for catalysing investments and actions to enhance resilience against sand and dust storms in agriculture in the Islamic Republic of Iran and Preparing for sand and dust storm contingency planning with herding communities: a case study on Mongolia Other items on the CRIC 21 agenda include promoting sustainable land management, ensuring fair land rights for women, and tackling droughts and wildfires exacerbated by climate change and environmental degradation. * * * * * Background: Sand and dust storms Sand and dust storms (SDS) are known by many local names: the sirocco, haboob, yellow dust, white storms, or the harmattan. While SDS can fertilize both land and marine ecosystems, they also present a range of hazards to human health, livelihoods and the environment. SDS events typically originate in low-latitude drylands and sub-humid areas where vegetation cover is sparse or absent. They can also occur in other environments, including agricultural and high-latitude areas in humid regions, when specific wind and atmospheric conditions coincide. SDS events can have substantial transboundary impacts, over thousands of kilometers. Unified and coherent global and regional policy responses are needed, especially to address source mitigation, early warning systems, and monitoring. SDS often have significant economic impacts: for example, they cost the oil sector in Kuwait an estimated US$ 190 million annually, while a single SDS event in 2009 resulted in damage estimated at US$ 229 - 243 million in Australia. The major global sources of mineral dust are in the northern hemisphere across North Africa, the Middle East and East Asia. In the southern hemisphere, Australia, South America and Southern Africa are the main dust sources. More than 80% of Central Asia is covered by deserts and steppes which, coupled with climate change and lasting droughts, represent a major natural source of sand and dust storms. The dried-up Aral Sea is a major source of SDS, emitting more than 100 million tons of dust and poisonous salts every year, impacting the health not just of the people living in the vicinity, but far beyond and generating annual losses of US$ 44 million.  Recognition of SDS as a disaster risk appears to be high in North-East Asia, parts of West Asia and North America but less prominent elsewhere. Low recognition of SDS as a disaster risk is likely due to the lack (in many cases) of significant immediate direct human fatalities or injuries from individual SDS events, and limited consolidated documentation on their long-term health, economic or other impacts. SDS and health SDS can be life-threatening for individuals with adverse health conditions. Fine dust particles are carried to high tropospheric levels (up to a few kilometres high) where winds can transport them over long distances. The health implications of SDS have been under increased investigation for decades, with most studies conducted in East Asia, Europe and the Middle East. There has been a lack of studies in West Africa. A particular focus of this research has been SDS modification of air pollution. The cause-and-effect between sand and dust in the atmosphere and health outcomes remains unclear and requires more extensive study.  What can be said is that at-risk members of a population, especially those with pre-existing cardiopulmonary issues, including childhood asthma, may have a higher mortality or morbidity rate during a dust storm. SDS can also impose major costs on the agricultural sector through crop destruction or reduced yield, animal death or lower yields of milk or meat, and damage to infrastructure. For annual crops, losses are due to burial of seedlings or crops under sand deposits, loss of plant tissue and reduced photosynthetic activity as a result of sandblasting. This can lead to complete crop loss in a region or reduced yield. There may also be a longer-term effect on some perennial crops due to tree or crop damage (such as lucerne/alfalfa crowns being damaged). On a positive note, SDS dust can contain soil nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as organic carbon. Some places benefit from this nutrient deposition on land, and mineral and nutrient deposition on water, particularly ocean bodies. When deposited, these can provide nutrients to downwind crop or pasture areas.  These limited benefits, however, are far outweighed by the harms done. Globally, the main large dust sources are dried lakes; local sources include glacial outwash plains, volcanic ash zones and recently plowed fields. The multi-faceted, cross-sectoral and transnational impacts of SDS directly affect 11 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals yet global recognition of SDS as a hazard is generally low due in part to the complexity and seasonally cumulative impact of SDS, coupled with limited data. Insufficient information and impact assessments hinder effective decision-making and planning to effectively address SDS sources and impacts.   UNCCD helps governments create policies to promote the scaling-up of sustainable land management practices and to find and use the latest science to develop and implement effective mitigation policies. Working with The Regional Environmental Centre for Central Asia, UNCCD assists countries vulnerable to drought and sand and dust storms in Central Asia to develop and implement risk reduction strategies at national and regional level. UNCCD encourages countries to adopt a comprehensive risk reduction strategy with monitoring and early warning systems to improve preparedness and resilience to these environmental disasters. Among the measures most needed are A multi-sectoral approach bolstered by information-sharing, short- and long-term interventions, engaging multiple stakeholders, and raising awareness of SDS. Land restoration, using soil and water management practices to protect soils and increase vegetative cover, which have been shown to significantly reduce the extent and vulnerability of source areas, and reduce the intensity of typical SDS events. Early warning and monitoring, building on up-to-date risk knowledge, and forecasting, with all stakeholders (including at-risk populations) participating to ensure that warnings are provided in a timely and targeted manner Impact mitigation, through preparedness to reduce vulnerability, increase resilience, and enables a timely, effective response to SDS events * * * * * About The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is an international agreement on good land stewardship. It helps people, communities and countries create wealth, grow economies and secure enough food, clean water and energy by ensuring land users an enabling environment for sustainable land management. Through partnerships, the Convention’s 197 parties set up robust systems to manage drought promptly and effectively. Good land stewardship based on sound policy and science helps integrate and accelerate achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, builds resilience to climate change and prevents biodiversity loss. The UNCCD Secretariat led the creation of the SDS Compendium document in collaboration with the UNCCD Science-Policy Interface (SPI), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), UN Women, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), and external experts and partners.

Sand and dust storm frequency increasing in many world regions, UN warns
Message to UNCCD CRIC21 from UN Secretary-General António Guterres

Samarkand, Uzbekistan, 13 November, 2023 Leaders have made a promise to the world: to combat the terrible trend of transforming healthy land into desert; to revitalize areas humanity has pushed into degradation and decay; and to create a world that is land degradation neutral. Keeping these promises is vital for nature, and for communities. But we are moving in the wrong direction. Between 2015 and 2019, 100 million hectares were degraded every single year, adding up to an area twice the size of Greenland. If current trends continue, we will need to restore the health of a staggering 1.5 billion hectares of degraded land by 2030. We can and must turn this around. Around the world we see examples of land being given a new lease of life, including in Uzbekistan. And the world could surpass its neutrality target if it works together to halt new land degradation and accelerate restoration. To achieve this, we need governments, businesses and communities to work together to conserve natural areas, scale up sustainable food production, and develop green urban areas and supply chains. I urge all of you to use this intersessional meeting to step up ambition and action to help make that a reality. Together, let’s see degraded lands thrive once more.

Message to UNCCD CRIC21 from UN Secretary-General António Guterres
Central Asia to host first-ever meeting of the UN treaty on desertification, land degradation and drought

Media Advisory 21st Committee to Review the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC21) meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, 13-17 November 2023. Bonn/Samarkand, 09/11/2023 - The twenty-first session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 21) to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) will be held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan from 13-17 November 2023. CRIC21 will bring together an estimated 500 delegates from 196 countries and the European Union, civil society, and academia to reflect on progress in delivering the Convention’s strategic objectives. It marks the first time UNCCD convenes one of its most significant meetings in Central Asia, since its establishment. This meeting comes at a critical juncture, as recent data launched by UNCCD shows that the world is losing nearly 100 million hectares of healthy and productive land every year. If current trends continue, 1.5 billion hectares of land will need to be restored by 2030 to achieve land degradation neutrality around the globe. But, halting additional degradation and accelerating existing commitments alone could surpass the neutrality target. UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw said: “Droughts, wildfires and heatwaves we have witnessed around the world are the symptoms of the deepening and interlinked climate and nature crises, with land at the heart of both. Since 2015, some 4 million square kilometres of healthy and productive lands have been lost—an area roughly the size of Central Asia. We must urgently stop further land degradation and restore at least 1 billion hectares to meet global land targets by 2030.”   CRIC21 will be held at the Silk Road Samarkand Congress Centre. Parties will have the opportunity to review progress and provide recommendations towards achieving global targets to prevent and reverse land degradation, in line with the 2018-2030 UNCCD strategic and implementation frameworks. Among the highlights of the CRIC21 programme: Opening plenary on 13 November from 10:00-13:00 with introductory statements from the Chair of the CRIC, the UNCCD Executive Secretary and the representative of the Government of Uzbekistan. UNCCD Gender Caucus on 14 and 16 November from 13:00-15:00 will convene international experts to discuss women’s land rights as a prerequisite to the success of global land restoration and drought resilience efforts. A high-level political event on Sand and Dust Storms hosted by the government of Uzbekistan will be held on 15 November from 10:00-13:00. In recent years, sand and dust storms have increased in both frequency and severity in both Uzbekistan and surrounding countries. For the first time, more than 30 side events will be organized at CRIC21. These events provide the informal opportunity for parties and accredited observer organizations to exchange information and experiences on diverse issues related to the objectives of the Convention. Press briefings will be held throughout CRIC21 between 13:00-15:00 local time, including: 13 November: Focus on Central Asia: global and regional trends on desertification, land degradation and drought with UNCCD Chief Scientist, Dr Barron Orr, and Programme Officer, Science, Technology and Innovation Unit, Ms Olga Andreeva (TBC). 14 November: Her Land. Her Rights: global and regional efforts to advance women’s land rights and their engagement in land restoration and drought resilience efforts with UNCCD and regional experts (TBC). 15 November: Sand and Dust Storms: the latest data on this growing phenomenon with UNCCD and regional experts, as well as the outcomes of the high-level event hosted by the Government of Uzbekistan. 17 November: Closing press conference: an overview of the key outcomes of CRIC21 with Mr Ibrahim Thiaw, UNCCD Executive Secretary, Ms. Biljana Kilibarda, Chair of the CRIC, and Mr Aziz Abdukhakimov, Uzbek Minister of Ecology, Environmental Protection and Climate Change. Notes to Editors  Accredited media representatives are invited to attend and report on CRIC21 and associated events. Field visits where journalists can see land restoration and drought resilience projects will take place immediately before and after CRIC21. Daily highlights of CRIC21 will be provided by the IISD Earth Negotiations Bulletin: https://enb.iisd.org/unccd-committee-review-implementation-convention-cric21 Side events schedule is available here: https://www.unccd.int/sites/default/files/2023-10/Side%20Events%20CRIC21.pdf Visual assets about CRIC21 and the UNCCD Data Dashboard are available here: https://trello.com/b/zq0kxtkK/unccd-cric21-samarkand-uzb-2023 Online registration for media representatives is available at the following link: www.unccd.int/cric-21-online-registration. To register, please provide the following documents: One recent passport-sized photograph A valid press card A copy (picture and signature pages) of your passport (for foreign journalists) or national identity card (for local applicants) A letter of introduction from the bureau chief or company sponsoring your travel to the session. For freelance journalists, a letter is required from the media organization assigning you to cover the conference A duly completed accreditation form Journalists who register online will be able to collect their accreditation at the Silk Road Samarkand Congress Center on presentation of a valid press card and an identity document. For more information on the regulations governing visa applications and the introduction of reporting material into Uzbekistan, please consult the following link: https://e-visa.gov.uz/main_ For inquiries about media accreditation or coverage of the event, please contact:  press@unccd.int A dedicated press and media working space will be available at the conference venue.  Additional information and media updates on the Convention and CRIC 21 will be available on the UNCCD website: https://www.unccd.int/cric21 About UNCCD The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the global vision and voice for land. We unite governments, scientists, policymakers, private sector and communities around a shared vision and global action to restore and manage the world’s land for the sustainability of humanity and the planet. Much more than an international treaty signed by 197 Parties, UNCCD is a multilateral commitment to mitigating today’s impacts of land degradation and advancing tomorrow’s land stewardship in order to provide food, water, shelter and economic opportunity to all people in an equitable and inclusive manner.

Central Asia to host first-ever meeting of the UN treaty on desertification, land degradation and drought
A milestone moment: Uzbekistan and UNCCD team up to tackle land crisis

Bonn/Samarkand, 10 October 2023 – Today the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) entered into a landmark agreement with the government of the Republic of Uzbekistan. The Host Country Agreement marks the culminating chapter in the preparations for the upcoming 21st session of the UNCCD Committee on the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC21), to be held from 13-17 November 2023 in Samarkand.  For the first time since its inception, UNCCD is convening one of its most important meetings in the heart of Central Asia. The highly anticipated CRIC21 will serve as a global platform for cutting-edge insights into land degradation and drought while assessing the progress the countries are making in restoring productive land.  Welcoming the UNCCD delegation to the historic crossroads of culture and civilization in the city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan's Minister of Ecology, Aziz Abdukhakimov emphasized the upcoming UN conference's role in bolstering global partnerships and environmental innovation. Among the inspiring examples of the successful project in land restoration he shared is the ongoing tree-planting efforts on 2 million hectares to combat the Aral Sea environmental crisis.  UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw noted that CRIC21 meets at a time of increasing environmental turbulence: cataclysmic heatwaves in Europe and North America, devastating droughts in the Horn of Africa, torrential monsoons and cyclones across Asia. The significance of land degradation as both a contributor to and a consequence of these phenomena cannot be overstated.  Recent UN data paints a sobering picture, demonstrating that 420 million hectares of fertile and productive land between have been degraded between 2015 and 2019 – an area exceeding the combined landscapes of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.  CRIC21 – a global symposium of delegates from 196 nations and the European Union, leaders of the civil society, academia, and international organizations – will delve into progress on the Convention's strategic objectives. These range from sustainable land management and drought resilience to ensuring fair land rights for women and tackling the sand and dust storms and wildfires exacerbated by the climate change and environmental degradation.  The UNCCD secretariat wishes to express its sincere gratitude to the Republic of Uzbekistan for graciously assuming the role of the host for this pivotal event. Like an intricate carpet weaved by expert hands unfurls to reveal its detailed patterns, CRIC21 will roll out at the Silk Road Samarkand Congress Centre in Uzbekistan this November. 

A milestone moment: Uzbekistan and UNCCD team up to tackle land crisis
Sand and Dust Storms Toolbox offers tools and guidance to combat SDS

The frequency of sand and dust storms (SDS) is on the rise in various regions across the globe. This rise is attributed to factors such as human-driven climate change, desertification, land degradation, and persistent droughts. These storms occur when strong winds lift large amounts of sand and dust from dry, arid soils into the atmosphere. They often carry these particles long distances, sometimes hundreds or even thousands of kilometers. The effects of these storms are widespread and often devastating. The World Health Organization estimates that 7 million people die from poor air quality every year, which is at least partly attributed to dust. Sand and dust storms pose numerous threats to human health, disrupt livelihoods, and wreak havoc on the environment. Managing these impacts is a major challenge, as human activity, and desertification in one region can trigger sand and dust storms that cause significant damage in remote regions. Recognizing the urgent need for international cooperation to address SDS, the General Assembly adopted a resolution (A/RES/77/294) on 8 June 2023, designating 12 July as the International Day to Combat Sand and Dust Storms. This day is intended to raise awareness of the link between health and sustainability in the context of SDS. To mark the first observance of the International Day to Combat SDS, several events were organized around the world. The “Commemoration of the International Day of Combating Sand and Dust Storms” event, co-organized by the Permanent Missions of Iraq, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Senegal at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, featured various speakers from organizations collaborating in the UN SDS Coalition. At the same time, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) hosted a series of regional webinars bringing together stakeholders from different regions. In line with the observation of the day, the UNCCD launched the new SDS Toolbox, a result of its collaboration with SDS Coalition partners. The toolbox provides a comprehensive set of tools, strategies, and guidelines for understanding and mitigating the impact of SDS. Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, extended a warm welcome to this initiative, stating, "We welcome the focus and efforts to raise awareness of this serious phenomenon. It shows how desertification and drought can have far-reaching effects beyond national borders and underlines the crucial role of cooperation in addressing these issues. We anticipate that the newly launched SDS Toolbox will foster much-needed collaboration by providing tools and guidance to our stakeholders." During the commemoration of the International Day to Combat SDS in New York, representatives of the SDS Coalition discussed ways to strengthen cooperation between the Coalition and various national and regional initiatives. They emphasized that regional cooperation is essential to address the transboundary nature of sand and dust storms and their impacts, and that regional action can complement national efforts to achieve sustainable development goals. See also: General Assembly Proclaims 12 July International Day of Combating Sand and Dust Storms, Aiming to Raise Awareness about Importance for Health, Sustainability SDS toolbox

Sand and Dust Storms Toolbox offers tools and guidance to combat SDS