Dust from the Sahara Desert Kills Babies across Africa. What can be Done?

In the southern edge of the world’s largest hot desert – the Sahara Desert – lies a low spot known as the Bodѐlѐ Depression, which is the largest single source of dust on earth. Basically, all that dust you see in your homes especially during the dry season mostly comes from Bodele Depression in the Sahara dessert.


While the dust that blows from the Bodele Depression has its advantages, such as providing fertile soil to the Amazon rainforests all the way in Brazil; it also has the disadvantage of increasing dust emissions that puts children at risk of dying before age 5, and climate change is making it worse.


Results from a recent research funded by the National Science Foundation suggests that dusts from Bodele is posing great health and ecological threat to African babies, with those living in countries closer to the desert at most risk (e.g. Chad, Egypt, etc).


Here are some key points to note from the research:


  • The Bodѐlѐ Depression is the single largest source of dust emissions in the world;

  • Dust is quickly transported from the Bodѐlѐ Depression across West Africa and beyond;

  • Air pollution due to dust emissions from the Bodѐlѐ Depression is having a devastating effect on infant/child mortality rate in Africa. Poor air quality is responsible for 1 in 5 infant death in sub-Saharan Africa.

  • The recent increase in Particulate Matter (PM2.5) concentration due to climate change across Bodѐlѐ has caused infant mortality to rise by 4-19% in West Africa and 8—24% across the whole of Africa.

  • Possible methods to reduce this excessive dust emission and save millions of babies from dying is estimated to be expensive.

  • Rainfall over the Bodele helps reduce the dust emissions, but climate change is reducing the likelihood of rainfall – putting the health of the African child at risk.


The study emphasizes the need for interventions by African governments and international organizations. Below are some of the methods that could be used to dampen the spread of dust from Bodele Depression which threatens infant lives:


1. Using Local Groundwater: It involves using renewable energy to extract groundwater to dampen the surface of Bodele. However, the major challenge is the means by which this underground water can be extracted considering that this Depression is located deep in the heart of the Sahara.


2. Solar-Powered Irrigation System: The plan of building a Solar-powered irrigation system appears to be more cost-effective because of the availability of solar energy in this region. However, other varying factors like flow rates, equipment and operational cost could have an underlying effect on the feasibility of this plan.


3. Health Interventions at Destination-level: This approach, unlike the others, involves tackling the existing problem from the areas affected, not from the source. It includes the use of vaccines, water and sanitation interventions. This method is currently in use in some affected regions across Africa today.


Current and future climatic conditions will continue to affect the amount of Saharan dust blowing across Africa. Efforts to increase natural rainfall or artificial irrigation over the Bodele Depression would have a large positive effect on the health of the African child, thus should be a key scientific and policy priority.

Photo Credit: Phys , DailyMail and Standford


N/B: PM2.5 refers to fine Particulate Matter which majorly consist of an air pollutant.

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Still Craving? Find out more about this research experiment and the results on NBER

Author Credit: Ima-Abasi Joseph Pius


Tags: #Africa #Sahara #Desert #AirPollution #WestAfrica #InfantMortality

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