Published On: Thu, Nov 27th, 2014

Coping With Harmattan Season

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Ambrose Inusa Sule environment watch

globenviron@yahoo.com | 0703-441-4410 (sms only)

The harmattan season is here with us again. The prevailing dust haze that has enveloped the country’s airspace in the past two weeks clearly heralded the harmattan season with chilly mornings and nights.

 Incidentally, the season coincides with the yuletide and end of the year, a period of high rate of travelling.

Auto accidents are common due to harmattan haze which reduces visibility and thereby put travelers

at serious risk. Fire outbreaks that can effortlessly get out of control causing destruction of lives and property are common during harmattan  again due to the dry atmosphere.

The evil effects of the harmattan season are severe cold, and people with asthmatic conditions suffer more crises. Many also suffer pneumonia and bronchitis, especially the very young and the aged.

 The Harmattan is a dry and dusty West African trade wind. This northeasterly wind blows from the Sahara into the Gulf of Guinea between the end of November and the middle of March. The temperatures can be as low as 3 degrees Celsius. The name comes from or is related to an Akan cognate.

In the northern part of the country, the heavy amount of dust in the air can severely limit visibility and block the sun for several days, comparable to a heavy fog. It can even break the trunk of the pine trees, growing in that area, through their dryness. The effect caused by the dust and sand stirred by these winds is known as the harmattan haze, which costs airlines millions of dollars in cancelled and diverted flights each year, and risks public health by increasing meningitis cases.

The season, which may last a couple of months longer in parts of the country, presents a peculiar character requiring modifications in daily life experience, particularly with regard to health and travel.

 Those that are allergic to cold should endeavour to go for thick clothing that can cover them up. The skin can be kept healthy through regular use of appropriate jelly products.

The impact of harmattan on social and economic activities depends on the severity of the physical characteristics of the air mass. The severity could be attributed to extraneous global factors like climate change.

A host of other ailments are aggravated during harmattan. These include eye irritations, pneumonia, catarrh and cough. The dry condition affects the skin and causes lips to crack.

However the chill induces longer hours of sleep, while sweating and heat rashes disappear. The fine dust particles settle on furniture pieces, cars, rooftops, window panes and on the surface of other objects, making frequent cleaning imperative.

There is actually no point in washing your car because within minutes it will be covered in dusty/sandy particles.

On a positive note, harmattan favours agricultural activities to flourish, as farmers use the period to clear farms and get them ready for planting. However, bush burning should be done with utmost caution to avoid setting forests ablaze.

 Between November and March, quite a lot of fire outbreaks are often recorded since there is dry wind, which makes it easy for fire to spread at the slightest mistake. Careless handling of fire during this period can cause damage of unimaginable proportion since fire spreads quickly because the environment is dry.

In the agrarian communities of the hinterland, farmers prepare for the next farming season during this period by burning bushes in preparation for cultivation. Unfortunately, this act of bush burning often result in severe losses to farmers as they repeatedly find it difficult to curtail the rage of the fire which, aided by the harmattan haze. Many rural communities have lost hitherto buoyant and prosperous farmlands to the rage of uncontrollable harmattan fire, thereby subjecting the natives, whose mainstay of income is farming, to avoidable pains and anguish.

One other source of harmattan fire is keeping petrol at home during this season. There is no doubt that due to wrong storage of petroleum products we experience the most destructive fire outbreaks during this period.

As stated earlier, the harmattan season travelling could be very hazardous during this season. It equally takes its toll on transportation, be it by air, road or on water.

There is need for all Nigerians to educate one another on the harmattan phenomenon, and prepare against its harmful elements.

 One would like to appeal to the public to be involved in the several on-going campaigns on how to prevent harmattan fire outbreaks and other related disasters. Also, community leaders should be involved in enlightening the people on the dangers of the harmattan season.

Strategies to lessen susceptibility should be entrenched in vulnerability assessment and better perception of all options that are available to reduce the exposure of the people to the evil effects of the harmattan season.

Since every season comes with its own challenges, it is therefore, the collective responsibility of everyone, not only to adapt to changing environment conditions, but also to adopt individual and joint strategies to confront all challenges associated with the harmattan season.

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