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Desert Pollution: A Review

by | Jul 26, 2022 | Pollution

Today, pollution has reached a whole new level, combining with desert pollution formed with pollutants in desert dust storms to affect human and planetary health. Take, for example, the Sahara Desert. The Sahara Desert is the largest expanse of arid territory, 3.5 million square miles in size not located at either the south or north pole. Deserts are an extremely sandy and dry place; it also witnesses strong speed winds that cause brutal dust storms and reduces the visibility in the area to almost zero.

Scotland-wide health warning over Sahara Desert dust pollution | HeraldScotland


The dust from the storms gets blown away to neighboring communities and even further than that. It aggravates the health of the people living in these areas. The dust from the Desert can mix with pollutants in the atmosphere to form even more toxic pollutants like particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5).

PM2.5 is one of the world’s most toxic and common airborne particulates. It is tiny enough to get into our lungs while breathing and can even reach the bloodstream and from there to the other organs of the body. PM2.5 can have severe effects on the internal bodies of humans. According to a recent study, the high level of pollution caused by the Sahara Desert is linked to the rise in infant mortality rates in the areas bordering the desert.

A similar situation occurs in the Mojave Desert. The Mojave Desert experiences smog brought into the desert from neighboring cities. Smog contains high levels of nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, metals, and particulate matter.

These air pollutants cause severe health issues, poor visibility, and damage to animals and plants. The Mojave Desert soil is disturbed due to various human practices like agriculture, off-road recreation, military training exercises, mining operations, and construction of infrastructure. All these activities produce a lot of dust, which can collect into large plumes.

Desert Winds

Dust or sand storms in the Sahara have a minimum speed of 25 miles per hour (at times higher). Thus, the Sahara Desert is the largest source of windblown dust on the planet. According to studies, estimates suggest that winds in the area lift hundreds of tera-grams of dust per year, generating debris enough to fill more than 10 million bin lorries.

The winds can push the dust over large regions and oceans, impacting people from other regions and even countries. While traveling to other places, the dust can end up mixing with pollutants present in the air, causing even more pollution.

However, the population closest to it is the most vulnerable to the Sahara winds. The Sahara Desert is home to around 2.5 million people and more that live near its fringes. This population is prone to prolonged exposure to dust storms.

Health Risks

According to a recent study from Stanford University in California, increased dust storms in the Sahara have a direct impact on infant mortality rates in the region. The researchers analyzed the birth data from 30 different countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa; they also used the data collected by a monitoring software for PM2.5.

The researchers found that in years when pollution increased in the Saharan Desert by 25 percent, there was an 18 percent growth in child deaths simultaneously. The exposure to the Saharan dust storms caused 400,000 infant mortalities in 2015.

A few experts suggested that using water to wet the sand can help to prevent the pollutants from becoming airborne, restricting the spread of the pollution. Overall improvement in child health is needed in Africa as it is extremely high in certain regions. Researchers have done their part by discovering the connection between air pollution and poor health (especially poor child health). Now further improvement and prevention are needed.



  • The author has done a master's in Environmental science and is currently working as chief Environmental Advisor with New Delhi State Government.


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