Speaking at a ministerial meeting on sand and dust-storms in the region, organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, Kenya, on 21 February, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General (SRSG) for Iraq, Mr. Martin Kobler (pictured), expressed his support for greenbelts in Iraq and proposed the establishment of a regional environmental trust fund to urgently address the issue of dust-storms.
Mr. Kobler stressed that dust-storms put an enormous strain on the economies of the countries of the Middle East and greatly affect the health of their citizens.
“Airports and border crossing points are closed, communication infrastructure breaks down, goods worth millions of dollars are lost, and hospitals are overburdened with patients with respiratory problems caused by dust. We need to be committed and creative in addressing the issue,” Mr. Kobler stressed to ministers and other representatives of Ministries of Environment of Middle Eastern countries, among them Iraq, Iran and the United Arab Emirates.
Mr. Kobler supported UNEP taking the lead on the issue, as requested by Iraq and several other countries. In particular, he supported the appeal of UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner to establish a regional environmental trust fund. “One or two governments alone will not make a difference. All have to unite, all have to work together,” he said.
Sand and Dust-Storms
- In 2008, 122 dust-storms were recorded in Iraq. However, it is estimated that within the next 10 years, 300 dust-storms could sweep the country every year.
- Dust-storms are an environmental phenomenon that transcends boundaries, and their growing intensity and frequency – as a result of increasing desertification and decreasing vegetation coverage – has a tremendous negative impact on national and regional human and socio-economic development.
- During a dust-storm, a country virtually comes to a stand-still:
- Dust-storms reduce visibility: airports, border crossing points and ports remain closed. Supply chains are interrupted, goods worth millions are lost. Precious time is wasted;
- Labour productivity and household incomes drop sharply: Millions of people cannot reach work, factories and offices are closed;
- Dust-storms generate clouds and increase surface heat and this further aggravates drought. The government of Iraq estimates that 39% of Iraq is affected by desertification – and that an additional 54% are under threat;
- Dust-storms damage crops and remove the fertile top soil, which reduces agricultural productivity. Much of Iraq’s fertile lands has been literally blown away;
- Dust-storms increase desertification, drought and reduce water supplies (drinking water, irrigation) and significantly increase soil salinity. There are projections that the Tigris and Euphrates rivers could be depleted by 2040;
- Dust-storms put a significant strain on the public health sector. Hospitals are overwhelmed in dealing with acute and chronic respiratory conditions caused by dust.