Source: IISD Reporting Service
Gary Lewis, UN Resident Coordinator, Iran, moderated the event. He described the drivers of sand and dust storms (SDS) as the “perfect storm” combining anthropogenic causes, such as land and water management, and those induced by climate change, such as hotter and drier weather. He underscored the economic, health and environmental impacts of SDS. Lewis noted a growing international consensus on SDS in 2016, including General Assembly Resolution 70/195, UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) Resolution 72/7 and UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) Resolution 2/21.
Masoumeh Ebtekar, Vice-President and Head of Department of Environment, Iran, stressed a growth in the number and intensity of SDS. She explained the differences between sand storms and dust storms, noting health effects, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, meningitis and eye infections. Ebtekar identified 10 hot spots where SDS originate and emphasized that each province in Iran has a local action plan to address SDS hot spots. Noting the transboundary nature of SDS, she stressed the need for international-level environmental impact assessment of projects affecting water availability in the region. She emphasized SDS are a peace and security issue.
Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator, said the economic impact of dust storms is at least US$13 billion yearly in lost GDP. She highlighted the Global Assessment of Sand and Dust Storms by UN Environment, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), noting it calls for increased cooperation on: early warning systems; mitigation of the worst effects; preventive measures; and research on SDS impacts on climate, oceans and other systems.
Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment described SDS as a huge human, economic, health and environmental issue. He included SDS in air pollution, noting that the WMO estimates 7 million people worldwide die prematurely every year due to air pollution. Noting past success addressing environmental problems such as ozone depletion and acid rain, he said SDS can be addressed, but require coordinated political action in the region. He underscored planting trees and building codes as key to address SDS.
In the ensuing discussion, a participant noted the role of Turkey’s dams in regulating water supply to its neighbors. Participants also discussed, inter alia, international sources of climate finance to address SDS and the role of UN agencies in addressing SDS.
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