Sandstorm hits Yemen, triggers panic among residents
The National Meteorological Center said the sandstorm came from the center of the Arabian Peninsula and the Empty Quarter Desert, and that it was triggered by cold northwest winds. The winds have caused extremely low visibility, which has dipped to 200 meters in some parts of Yemen.
It was the most powerful sandstorm in recent memory in Yemen, and has triggered widespread concerns that peoples’ health might be affected as a result of exposure to the dusty air.
As of Tuesday, the ministries of education, higher education and scientific research, and technical education and vocational training decided to suspend classes for three days.
In a press release, the three ministries said the decision to suspend studies was based on reports made by the National Center of Meteorology, which has advised people - especially children, the elderly, and those suffering from asthma and allergies - to stay indoors and to not venture outside except when necessary.
For its part, the Ministry of Education said that it had announced a three-day holiday to allow students to avoid potential respiratory problems as a result of exposure to the dust-laden air.
The sandstorm was at its worst on Tuesday, especially in the southeastern governorates of Hadramout, Al-Mahra, Al-Jawf, Marib, Abyan, and Shabwa.
Abdullah al-Sahli, a forecaster at the National Meteorology Center, said the sandstorm caused low visibility and urged drivers and motorists to take caution as horizontal visibility was at an all-time low.
On Tuesday, aviation authorities suspended all incoming flights to Sana’a International Airport because of visibility problems.
Al-Marqab, however, stated that the schedule for departing flights had not been disrupted by the sandstorm because departing flights – unlike incoming flights, which need at least 800 meters of horizontal visibility – require only 400 to 500 meters of visibility.
Fouad Al-Qisi, the head of the UNDP’s Poverty Fighting and Sustainable Development Unit, told the Yemen Times that concerned authorities in Yemen were late in facing the potential consequences of the sandstorm, and said the Ministry of Education had announced the holiday decision late at night, resulting in some students not hearing the announcement and traveling to school in the morning.
Al-Qisi said drinking a lot of water, keeping doors and windows shut, and staying indoors were some of the measures people could take to reduce the sandstorm’s ill effects.
“Yemen has never witnessed such a powerful and prolonged sandstorm, leading us to link such a problem with climate change,” said Ahmed Walid, a climate change specialist at the UNDP’s Sustainable Development Unit.
“The same causes which led to global climate change are the same that led the Arabian Peninsula to experience such a dangerous sandstorm,” Walid said.
He explained that a sharp decline in agricultural activity, the expansion of deserts, and energy sector-related activities were the most likely facilitating factors behind the sandstorm’s unprecedented scope.