UN vows to collaborate with Iran in fighting negative impact of sand, dust storms

Tehran, IRNA - Director of the Asian and Pacific Centre for the Development of Disaster Information Management (APDIM) offered readiness for facilitating collaborations to mitigate the negative impact of sand and dust storms at regional and intra-regional levels.

“We stand ready to facilitate collaborations to mitigate the negative impact of sand and dust storms through actions at the regional and intra-regional levels,” Letizia Rossano said in an exclusive interview with IRNA.

APDIM has recently published a report on the Sand and Dust Storms Risk Assessment in Asia and the Pacific, which discloses interesting findings on sand and dust storms' impact on agriculture, energy, environment, aviation, human health, and quality of life in cities. Although sand and dust storms play an important role in the ecosystem, they also pose risks to society and the environment, directly threatening the achievement of 11 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Due to the transboundary nature of sand and dust storms, regional cooperation, and local actions to minimize their negative impact are needed.

Elaborating on the critical findings of the report on the Sand and Dust Storms Risk Assessment in Asia and the Pacific, Rossano said: “The findings of this risk assessment clearly show that sand and dust storms negatively affect human health, energy, agriculture, and aviation in the short and long term.”

“The findings indicated that more than 6 million people across cities in China, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan breathed in unhealthy levels of air pollution caused by sand and dust storms every day for 10 months in 2019,” she added.

UN vows to collaborate with Iran in fighting negative impact of sand, dust storms

“Poor air quality worsens with every sand and sand and dust storm,” she said adding: “In Central Asia, 80 percent of the entire population are exposed to a high level of poor air quality caused by severe sand and dust storms.”

“Furthermore, large areas of farmlands are affected by dust deposition in Turkmenistan (71% of the cropland area), Pakistan (49%) and Uzbekistan (44%). Much of this dust is characterized by a high salt content, making the dust toxic to plants which reduces soil and water quality,” Rossano stated.

“Some crops are more sensitive to this phenomenon; for instance, it can reduce cotton production.”

“In the ecosystem, when sand and dust storm events occur across glaciers, it causes a warming effect, increasing the melting rate of ice and subsequently changing patterns of floods and drought in downstream,” APDIM director said.  

“This study shows that dust particles are a big threat to the glaciers in the Himalaya-Hindu Kush Mountain range and the Tibetan Plateau, the so-called Third Pole.”

“This issue is alarming as these glaciers provide fresh water to more than 1.3 billion people in Asia.”

“Sand and dust storms also have a considerable impact on the energy sector. Just in a small part of the energy sector, economic loss due to efficiency reduction in solar generators, measured in economic terms, is greater than USD107m per year in India and exceeds USD46m in China and USD37m in Pakistan,” the UN official added.

“In the aviation sector, this report identified the airports and flight paths with the highest risk of flight delay and cancellation as well as potential damage to aircraft engines which are caused by sand and dust storms.”

UN vows to collaborate with Iran in fighting negative impact of sand, dust storms

Touching upon the UN action globally and the Islamic Republic of Iran's neighboring countries to combat sand and dust storms, Rossano said: “In the past years, many countries, including the Islamic Republic of Iran and its neighbors, have taken actions in this regard individually as well as in collaboration with the UN System.”

“Each tackling the phenomenon with specific strategies, including land and water management, combating land degradation, monitoring, and early warning,” she added.

IRNA: According to the studies done by the Department of Environment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the main problem is that 300 million hectares of sand and dust storms hotspots are in the neighboring countries, most of which are carried by atmospheric currents to the Islamic Republic of Iran. In fact, dust from various hotspots is carried to the Islamic Republic of Iran from the North and East, countries including Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, from the South, Southwest and West, countries including Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.  

“To coordinate these activities and promote the issue in a more holistic way, the United Nations General Assembly, through its resolution 72/225 pushed the UN system to improve synergies and align efforts at the regional and global level, ensuring that unified and coherent action is taken, and facilitating the capacity-building of Member States, raising their awareness, and enhancing their preparedness and response to sand and dust storms in critical regions,” she noted. 

“A UN Coalition on Combating Sand and Dust Storms was created.  APDIM is one of the members of this Coalition and co-chairs the working group on Mediation and Regional Collaboration.”

“In the context of the United Nations Coalition on Combating Sand and Dust Storms, APDIM organized an inter-regional discussion with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) on enhancing understanding and expanding inter-regional and regional cooperation on sand and dust storms.”

“The discussion aimed to share national experiences, showcase transboundary cooperation examples, and highlight the potential for collaboration across different regions.”

UN vows to collaborate with Iran in fighting negative impact of sand, dust storms

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND:  In this context, since 2018, the Secretary-General of the United Nations issues a report on sand and dust storms which provides details on developments within the United Nations system on this particular matter. Report of the Secretary-General to the General Assembly on Combating Sand and Dust Storms last year highlighted the development of a joint regional plan of action for combating the negative impact of sand and dust storms in all dimensions of development in the Asia-Pacific region to reduce vulnerability and to improve and strengthen the resilience of communities in the region. It also highlighted APDIM as a facilitator of the regional partnership for addressing transboundary hazards.

In response, APDIM convened several high-level expert meetings at the regional level. Sand and Dust Storm Risk Assessment in Asia and the Pacific was one of the recommendations of the high-level meeting in August 2019 at the side event of the 6th session of ESCAP Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction. Experts highlighted the importance of conducting this assessment at the regional level to build the foundation for developing a regional plan of action. The risk assessment report has been produced as a result of collaboration, active support, and contributions from several UN entities and subsidiary bodies of ESCAP, national agencies, research institutions, and universities worldwide.

APDIM will convene thematic expert consultation on the impact of sand and dust storms at the urban level, and three sub-regional online consultations on sand and dust storms risk in Central Asia, South and South-West Asia and North-East Asia to create a common understanding of what the problem is based on the evidence, convene intra-regional conversations and facilitate discussions at the intergovernmental level across countries to develop a regional plan of action to reduce and mitigate the negative impact of sand and dust storms.

Asked about a scientific solution to deal with sand and dust storms globally given drought conditions, the reduction of water resources, and the drying up of wetlands,” Rossano said: “Chapter 4 of the APDIM Sand and Dust Storms Risk assessment report is particularly focusing on the projection of the sand and dust storms in the region.”

“Based on the projection of drought and water stress as well as considering the current situation, we highlighted the areas we expected to have more sand and dust storms as well as the areas we expect to see a decline of the phenomenon in the next decade,” she added.

“The report painted a picture, some of the strategies that can be adopted to tackle this problem could focus on prevention, e.g., reversing deforestation and land degradation in order to reduce the amount of dust emission.”

“Another approach is to reduce the impact by reducing the exposure, reducing sensitivity, and improving resilience.”

“Depending on each case and the availability of resources, a combination of these approaches could be adopted.” 

“We also need to keep in mind that sand and dust storms are a natural phenomenon that has both positive and negative effects,” she reiterated.

“We cannot and should not think of eliminating this phenomenon altogether, she said, adding:
“Our focus needs to be on minimizing the negative impacts and to be mindful when climate change and human-driven factors bring this phenomenon to a level that goes beyond what is natural.” 

UN vows to collaborate with Iran in fighting negative impact of sand, dust storms

IRNA: The occurrence of sand and dust storms results from the reduction of water resources and drought. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, the National Committee to Combat Sand and Dust Storms has been established to identify the national and international hotspots of sand and dust storms, according to which there are 34.6 million hectares of dust hotspots in the country, 17% of which with high and very high intensity. To control it, measures such as planting 110,000 hectares of seedlings, protective management of about 50,000 hectares of agricultural land, 300 km of dredging and 3,000 hectares of windbreaks, increasing sand and dust measuring stations, preparing a 10-year plan for managing dust hotspots have been done resulting in somewhat curbing the hotspots.

Commenting on the UN recommendations to Iran with regard to fight sand and dust storm, Rossano said: “The Islamic Republic of Iran is a lead country in the knowledge and analysis of the sand and dust storms phenomenon and contributed some of the most critical literature and research on the subject.”

“So the recommendations would be to build on this excellence to further assess the socio-economic impact across different sectors. The Islamic Republic of Iran has a history of leadership in the international community in dealing with sand and dust storms as a transboundary disaster.”

APDIM has been collaborating with the several departments of the Islamic Republic of Iran that deal with this problem from a substantive perspective, including the Department of Environment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in particular, the National Committee to Combat Sand and Dust Storms, Iran Meteorological Organization as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at regional and intra-regional level meetings.

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND:  The Tehran Ministerial Declaration, adopted at the International Conference on Combating Sand and Dust Storms organized in Tehran in July 2017, was a push forward that emphasized the need to strengthen the leadership role of the United Nations system in promoting international cooperation to mitigate and mitigate contain sand and dust storms. In addition, the unique methodology developed for this report allows for countries to undertake a similar assessment with a more detailed lens across different sectors in terms of impact. APDIM is, of course, stands ready to extend the application of the methodology at the domestic level for countries that wish to apply it. 

Expounding on the UN suggestions to the countries affected by this phenomenon for combating sand and dust storms, Rossano said: “From the findings of this assessment, we suggested a series of next steps for coordinated regional action on sand and dust storms for all countries in the region.”

“We need to deepen our understanding of the impact of this phenomenon; We identified that a huge gap still exists which can be filled by scientists, academia, and research institutes.”

“In contrast to other disasters, there is no systematic reporting mechanism to report losses and damages due to sand and dust storm events. In this regard, APDIM developed a Guideline to help countries to record and report the data in a systematic way.”

“The other suggestion is to develop impact-based forecasting to not only anticipate the meteorological phenomenon of sand and dust storms but also, at the same time predict the impact on various sectors, especially health sector, in order to be able to see what targeted measures could minimize exposure and reduce risks,” she noted.

UN vows to collaborate with Iran in fighting negative impact of sand, dust storms

“We also suggest countries take coordinated actions in most at-risk and exposed geographical areas to mitigate the risks.”

“The report provides specific suggestions on the sets of countries with similar challenges and the potential areas of collaboration. APDIM stands ready to facilitate cooperation with neighboring countries to mitigate the negative impact through mitigation actions,” she stated.

Highlighting the importance of APDIM mission in combating sand and dust storms in Iran and other affected countries, Rossano said: “Addressing issues such as climate change and natural disasters such as sand and dust storms that occur across regions and their impacts are felt at a transboundary level require bilateral and/or multilateral negotiations between governments framed through policy frameworks developed by international organizations such as the UN.”

“APDIM is strategically well-positioned within the UN Secretariat as a regional institution of ESCAP. APDIM can bring together the two still quite separate domains of technical disaster information and socio-economic information, enhancing disaster information management, building capacities, and connecting national and international efforts and play an important role in connection with national governments.”

“In the case of sand and dust storms, APDIM showcased this unique position in its Sand and Dust Storms Risk Assessment for Asia and the Pacific and is working to facilitate common action at the regional level as a result of the findings of this report,” Director of the Asian and Pacific Centre for the Development of Disaster Information Management concluded. 

About APDIM

The Asian and Pacific Centre for the Development of Disaster Information Management (APDIM) is a regional institution of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) hosted by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. APDIM was established in 2018 with the mandate to reduce human and material losses due to natural hazards and contribute to the effective design, investment, and implementation of disaster risk reduction and resilience policies. APDIM's vision is to ensure that effective disaster risk information is produced and used for sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific.

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