Sand and Dust Storms: Challenges and Impacts on Environment, Health, and Development

sand and dust storms upsc notes

From Current Affairs Notes for UPSC » Editorials & In-depths » This topic

Sand and dust storms (SDS) have become increasingly frequent and severe in recent years, according to the United Nations (UN). These meteorological hazards primarily occur in arid and semi-arid regions, driven by thunderstorms and strong pressure gradients associated with cyclones. The resulting strong winds lift substantial amounts of sand and dust from dry soils, transporting them over vast distances. SDS have profound impacts on weather, climate, environment, human health, and ecosystems.

Sand and Dust Storms mind map

This topic of “Sand and Dust Storms: Challenges and Impacts on Environment, Health, and Development” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

What are Sand and Dust Storms?

  • SDS are common meteorological hazards in arid and semi-arid regions.
  • They are caused by thunderstorms and strong pressure gradients associated with cyclones, which increase wind speed over a wide area.
  • These strong winds lift large amounts of sand and dust from bare, dry soils into the atmosphere, carrying them hundreds to thousands of kilometers away.

Impact on Weather, Climate, and Environment

  • Dust particles serve as condensation nuclei for cloud formation, affecting the amount and distribution of precipitation.
  • Airborne dust acts similarly to the greenhouse effect, influencing the energy reaching the Earth’s surface.
  • SDS are recurring environmental phenomena that reduce air quality and visibility.

Prelims Sureshots – Most Probable Topics for UPSC Prelims

A Compilation of the Most Probable Topics for UPSC Prelims, including Schemes, Freedom Fighters, Judgments, Acts, National Parks, Government Agencies, Space Missions, and more. Get a guaranteed 120+ marks!

Impact on Human Health

  • Particles larger than 10 μm are not breathable and can only damage external organs.
  • Particles smaller than 10 μm often get trapped in the nose, mouth, and upper respiratory tract, leading to respiratory disorders such as asthma.

Impact on Land and Marine Ecosystems

  • Surface dust deposits provide micronutrients for continental and maritime ecosystems, including the fertilization of the Amazon rainforest by Saharan dust.
  • However, dust also has numerous negative impacts on agriculture and food security, including reducing crop yields, causing loss of plant tissue, decreasing photosynthetic activity, and increasing soil erosion.

Primary Hotspots of Dust Storms

  • Sahara Desert
  • Middle East
  • Taklamakan Desert in northwest China
  • Southwest Asia
  • Central Australia
  • Etosha and Makgadikgadi basins of southern Africa
  • Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
  • Great Basin in the US

Concerns Raised by the United Nations

  • Approximately 2 million tonnes of sand and dust enter the atmosphere each year.
  • SDS predominantly originate in dryland areas, which cover 41% of the Earth’s land surface and are highly susceptible to global climate change.
  • Human-induced climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of SDS.
  • The impact of SDS is felt worldwide, affecting both developed and developing countries.
  • SDS pose a significant challenge to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as they are linked to at least 11 out of the 17 goals.
  • The regions most affected by SDS, such as Africa and the Middle East, are particularly vulnerable to desertification and land degradation.
  • Global recognition of SDS as a hazard is generally low.

Steps Taken and Needed

  • The UN General Assembly recognized the significant challenge posed by SDS to the sustainable development of affected countries and regions.
  • The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) designated July 12, 2023, as the first-ever International Day of Combatting Sand and Dust Storms.
  • Achieving the SDGs requires reducing the occurrence and impact of SDS in affected areas.
  • Addressing SDS requires a multi-sectoral approach, involving sustainable land management, climate change mitigation and adaptation, disaster risk reduction (including early warning systems), and international cooperation.
  • SDS policies and planning should aim to reduce societal vulnerability by mitigating the effects of wind erosion.
  • A comprehensive, multi-stakeholder process that includes short- and long-term interventions, information-sharing, and raising awareness of SDS is crucial.


Addressing the challenges posed by sand and dust storms requires an integrated approach that combines sustainable land management, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and disaster risk reduction. Additionally, the establishment of early warning systems and international cooperation is essential. By taking these steps, we can mitigate the occurrence and impact of SDS and work towards achieving the SDGs while ensuring the sustainable development of affected regions.

Related Posts

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Home Courses Plans Account