A Devastating Dust Storm, Reality or Nightmare?

Dust storm is a kind of wind erosion that happens commonly in arid to semi-arid regions. Dust storms arise when strong wind loose the sand and dirt from dry surface; fine particulates are transported by saltation and suspension process in which strong wind lift the soil particles into the atmosphere and transport them into hundreds to thousands of kilometer away.

A Devastating Dust Storm, Reality or Nightmare?

The average time of dust particles in the atmosphere ranges from a few hours for the particle size >10 µm and more than 10 days of particle size < 10 µm. Dust storms can carry large amounts of dust, with the leading edge being composed of a wall of thick dust as much as 1.6 km high.

On the occasion of “World Environment Day” June 05, 2018, meanwhile nature gave the clear indication to the Pakistan “Plant trees and safe lives”. It is the second environmental hazard after Lahore Smog, 2016.

Lahore is the capital city of the Pakistani province Punjab, and is the second most populous city of the country after Karachi. The city is located in the North-Eastern end of Pakistan’s Punjab Province, near the Indian border. A country must hold 21 to 22% of forests area to meet their demands but unfortunately, less than 4.8% are of Pakistan is under forests.

According to FAO, Forest area (% of land area) in Pakistan was 1.91 as of 2015. Its highest value over the past 25 years was 3.28 in 1990, while its lowest value was 1.91 in 2015. Moreover, the statistics data of FAO shows that Pakistan loses 42,000 hectares or 2.1 percent of its forests every year.

Even forest scientists have already been warned that, Pakistan will run out of forest within next 50 years if deforestation continues at the current rate and that day no far-away when we see dust storms and dust bowls. So the question is here that, what are the main causes of dust storms? And what are its environmental and health effects? How it can be tackle or minimize?

On the World Environment Day (June 05, 2018), Lahore faced a devastating dust storm with more than 120 Km h-1 wind speed along with hazardous particulate matter. Although, masses considering it was a minor dust blown but if we see Pakistani forest area and deforestation rate, and water scarcity; what we can expect within next few years ahead?

This sudden dust storm caused serious damage, road accidents, many injuries and deaths in the city. The main causes of the dust storms includes: particles becomes loosely held due to prolonged drought or air dry conditions and high wind speed. Moreover, poor farming practices, intensive tillage and less cover crop or less vegetation on the soil surface are also the leading causes.

Health effects of dust storm cannot be ignored; Inhalable particles, those smaller than 10μm, often get trapped in the nose, mouth and upper respiratory tract, thus can be associated with respiratory disorders such as asthma, tracheitis, pneumonia, allergic rhinitis and silicosis.

Over and after this polluted dust storm can cause allergy outbreak in the local residence. A global model assessment in 2014 estimated that exposure to dust particles caused about 400 000 premature deaths by cardiopulmonary disease in the over 30 population.

Dust storms cause soil loss from the dry lands, and reduce photosynthetic activity and increase soil erosion; they preferentially remove organic matter and the nutrient-rich lightest particles, thereby reducing agricultural productivity. Also the abrasive effect of the storm damages young crop plants.

Apart from these, Pakistan is now a days experiencing hottest summer every year worsen than the previous. This changing trend of climate needs special attention for healthy life and crop productivity. We should take necessary steps to make our land for safe and healthy life.

This type of wind storm is a threat to the agricultural land, so, we need to adopt the following strategies to mitigate this situation:

  • Sustainable land management
  • Integrated landscape management
  • Integrated water management

We need to aware the masses about the importance of tree plantation and must discourage the deforestation and in this case, government should take revolutionary steps for the development of forest and implementation of laws and policies.

Plants and forests are the chief pillars on the Earth but anthropogenic activities give birth to the core issue of climate change. It would not be unfair to say “Humans are the biggest pollutants in the recent world”.

Today, we are not worry about the effect that we have faced in Lahore in the form of strong wind storm but it is alarm for the destruction of our future if we did not make ensure the trees plantation. We should also focus on the emission of greenhouse gases, depletion of the ozone layer, and other effects of industrialization are wreaking havoc with the gradual warming of the atmosphere.

We should safe our natural resources, in which, particularly now days, water security is a hot issue in Pakistan, we should also focus on water storage so that we can encounter any scarcity in the future. Every person need to awake before it is late about the environment, otherwise ignorance about “Green Pakistan” may lead this Eden to the balls of fire.


By Muhammad Nadeem Ashraf

I am a PhD researcher at Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing. My special focus is on soil microbial ecology and soil fertility.