$20m earmarked to mitigate SDSs in Sistan-Baluchestan

August 17, 2019

TEHRAN - A total budget of 865 billion (nearly $20.5 million) has been allocated to counter sand and dust storms (SDSs) hitting southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan, Ali Mohammad Tahmasebi, head of the national working group for SDSs mitigation, has said.

Sistan, located north of Sistan-Baluchestan province, is frequently hit by sand and dust storms, as well as drought and even destructive floods.

It was announced that strong SDSs with as fast as 100 kilometers per hour speed have stricken Sistan-Baluchestan province over 19 times since last year.

PM concentration even peaked at 60 times above the safe levels in the region.

Referring to the SDSs hitting southeastern part of the country causing the residents severe health problems, Tahmasebi noted the SDSs increase by 120-day winds, which usually starts from Late-April to Late-September.

120-day winds of Sistan raging from northeast to southeast with high speed in summer, affects large areas of Sistan-Baluchestan province, and when the temperature reaches the highest level, it will cause storms, soil erosion and vegetation depletion as well as carrying abrasive sand and particles. 

These winds are the sequence of monsoon in India, which get power in Afghanistan especially in the Thar desert and then pass through the flat areas of Afghanistan to enter Iran.

The sources of these SDSs are both internal and external, he emphasized, adding, the SDSs usually raise from external hotspots in Afghanistan and move into the Sistan plain and the Hamoun wetland, which is dried and turned into a hotspot.

The Hamouns are transboundary wetlands on the Iran-Afghan border made up of three lakes: Hamoun-e Helmand, which is entirely in Iran, Hamoun-e Sabari on the border, and Hamoun-e Puzak, almost entirely inside Afghanistan. The three lakes are linked and fed by water from the Helmand River which starts in the Hindu Kush Mountains in Afghanistan.

In past two decades, water have still been flowing in Hamoun wetland and soil was moisturized; the storms fed with external hotspots have been largely controlled, he explained.

He went on to say that but now due to the dryness of the Hamoun, the SDSs have been increased. However, heavy rain this year filled Hamoun wetland and contained the issue.

He further lamented that last year not a sufficient budget have been allotted to curb sand and dust storms in Sistan, adding that this year some 865 billion rials (around $20.5 million) have been allocated in this regard.

The budget will be distributed among the responsible bodies to take efficient measures, he said.

The Forests, Range and Watershed Management Organization will receive 330 billion rials (about $7.8 million) to plant vegetation in the areas and curb dust generation, he noted. 

“Some 350 billion rials (about $9 million) will be provided to the Ministry of Energy to dredge the river beds in order to facilitate water release into the Hamoun wetland.”

A part of the budget will also spend on new agricultural irrigation methods and reducing water consumption in the sector, holding training courses for locals, he highlighted.

“About 150 billion rials (around $3.5 million) will be given to the Department of Environment, which will protect Hamoun wetland, deliver water to the wetland and distribute water in areas affected by wind erosion, adding, and provide health care and hospital services in Sistan region.”

According to the World Metrological Organization, sand and dust storms usually occur when strong winds lift large amounts of sand and dust from bare, dry soils into the atmosphere. Over the last decade, scientists have come to realize the impacts on climate, human health, the environment and many socio-economic sectors.

How to mitigate the effects of SDSs

According to EcoMENA, sand and dust storms cause significant negative impacts on society, economy and environment at local, regional and global scale. There are three key factors responsible for the generation of sand and dust storms – strong wind, lack of vegetation and absence of rainfall. The environmental and health hazards of such storms cannot be reduced permanently, however its impact can be reduced by taking appropriate measures.

As the dust cloud rises, it reduces the horizontal visibility which can impact human life in many ways. The fine suspended particles also contain contaminants, bacteria, pollens, which cause negative health impacts such as allergies and respiratory diseases. Dust also carries air borne pollutants such as toxins, heavy metals, salt, sulphur, pesticides, etc. which cause significant health impacts when people inhale the contaminated dust.  Dust can corrode buildings and other built infrastructure as it contains high level of salts.

The effects of sand and dust storms can be reduced by using a number of health and safety measures and environmental control strategies.  Large-scale sand and dust storms are generally natural phenomena and it may not be always practicable to prevent it happening. However, control measures can be taken to reduce its impacts. Localized small-scale dust emission due to human induced activities can be reduced by using temporary mechanical methods such as concrete barrier, mulching, tree buffer etc. 

Taking appropriate control of dust raising factors such as increasing the vegetation cover where possible can help in stabilization of the soil, sand dunes and form windbreaks. Additionally use of native plants and trees as buffer can reduce wind velocity and sand drifts at the same increase the soil moisture. Designing buildings appropriately and conduct air infiltration testing during building commissioning can also help the adverse effects of sand and dust storm.

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