Dust storms cause health problems in west
HERAT, 20 August 2008 (IRIN) - Unusually strong winds carrying dust
from the parched land have increased respiratory and eye diseases in
western Afghanistan, according to health and environmental officials.
The winds - known locally as “the 120-day winds” - usually begin in
early July and go on until late September in Herat Province, the
provincial department of agriculture said. This year’s winds have been
unusually strong, destructive and dust-laden.
“Because of drought, climate change, environmental degradation and lack
of vegetation, the wind is extremely strong and dusty this time -
unprecedented in several decades,” Akhtar Mohammad Mahboob, an official at
the provincial department of environmental protection, told IRIN.
“Serious” air pollution has been caused in Herat Province by the
swirling dust and there has been a significant increase in reported cases
of respiratory and eye diseases, public health officials said.
Reports from eight health centres in Herat city showed 8,338 cases of
acute respiratory disorder and 10,609 cases of eye problems over the past
two months, compared to 3,416 respiratory and 2,567 ophthalmologic
referrals in the same period last year, Mohammad Zarif Akbaryan, an
official at Herat's health department, told IRIN.
Akbaryan said that they advised people to use any protective means
available when going outdoors. He said that women, children and the
elderly were the most vulnerable.
Damage to agricultural land
Herat agricultural officials said the winds were a mixture of gales and
whirlwinds and had caused extensive damage to agriculture.
“Usually these winds damage 2-3cm of topsoil, but this year preliminary
assessments indicate that damage has been caused up to 12cm down,” said
Abdullah Khawari, an official in the department of agriculture. He said
soil fertility and agricultural production had been affected.
“The wind has also moved piles of sand onto agricultural land, damaging
its fertility,” Khawari said.
Afghanistan has lost over 70 percent of its forests and vegetation in
the past three decades, leading to desertification and environmental
degradation particularly in the south, east and west, according to the
Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock.
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