Sandstorms, which have hit the Middle East in recent days and are likely to increase with climate change, are not without danger for humans, according to experts. They cause respiratory diseases that can be fatal.
In Iraq, which has been hit by eight sandstorms since mid-April, at least 4,000 people had to be hospitalized on Monday with respiratory problems. The previous episode resulted in a death from similar illnesses on May 5, resulting in more than 5,000 people being hospitalized.
According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), sand and dust storms affect more than 150 countries and regions with environmental, health and economic impacts. Strong winds lift large amounts of sand and dust into the atmosphere that can travel hundreds or even thousands of kilometers.
Local and global
“It’s both a local and global phenomenon, with greater intensity in the areas of origin,” notes Carlos Pérez García-Pando, expert on sand and dust storms at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BsC) and at ICREA (the Catalan institution for research and development). further studies).
These storms come primarily from arid or semi-arid regions of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia, and China. Australia, America and South Africa are less active sources. “Airborne dust poses a serious health hazard,” writes the WMO, a specialized agency of the United Nations.
Sand mist consists of particles that penetrate the airways and can damage the respiratory system, but also the cardiovascular system. Their size “largely determines the level of danger,” the WMO emphasizes.
Fine particles (rather around 10 microns) “often settle in the nose, mouth and upper airways and can cause respiratory diseases (asthma, tracheitis, pneumonia, allergic rhinitis, silicosis),” the institution continues.
“However, the gravitation is lower than with ultrafine particles, such as those from road traffic, which can penetrate the brain or the blood system,” explains Thomas Bourdrel, medical radiologist, researcher at the University of Strasbourg, member of the Air collective Santé Climat.
If the sand particles, which are made up of many mineral elements, “have a less toxic composition than particles associated with, say, wood, coal, diesel, or forest or industrial fires,” “their extreme density during storms causes a fairly significant increase in cardio-respiratory mortality, particularly among the most vulnerable,” he explains.
With “a concentration of thousands of cubic microns in the air, it’s almost unbreathable,” says Carlos Perez García-Pando. The oldest, young children, respiratory and heart failure are more at risk.
Residents of countries that regularly face sandstorms experience more chronic exposure than, for example, Europeans who face less frequent exposure to Saharan dust, as in the significant episode in March.
Depending on weather and climate conditions, sand dust can remain airborne for days and travel vast distances, sometimes picking up bacteria, pollen spores, fungi and viruses.
The frequency and intensity of sandstorms could increase as a result of climate change, some scientists believe. But the phenomenon is “full of uncertainties” and “complex”, with a cocktail of factors (heat, wind, agricultural practices), Carlos Pérez García-Pando told AFP.
“In some areas, climate change could reduce the winds that cause storms, but extreme events could continue or even increase,” he said. As temperatures rise, the country is likely to become drier in many regions.
“A major temperature anomaly has been observed in East Africa, the Middle East and East Asia this year, and this drought is affecting vegetation, a factor that could intensify dust storms,” notes the Spanish researcher.
This article was published automatically. Sources: ats/afp
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