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AFGHANISTAN: 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.


Photo: Khaled Nahiz/IRIN
The winds have caused damages to agriculture lands by moving fertile soil away from lands
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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Theme (s): Environment, Health & Nutrition, Natural Disasters,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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