Friday, 11 April 2014

"Sometimes the parched topsoil of the Sahara settles on London and the whole of England": How the results of intensive farming in Africa are felt thousands of miles away

A week ago, British news media were full of Saharan dust storms:
Futures Forum: What to do about car emissions: from Paris to London... yet again... 

Many commentators felt that the issues were being ignored:

Ben Jennings on UK air pollution – cartoon | Comment is free | The Guardian 

Pollution levels at home are certainly a culprit:
Smog over Britain: Air pollution ‘will get worse’ as more drivers choose diesel powered cars - Climate Change - Environment - The Independent 
Air pollution linked to one in 12 deaths in London – and it takes six months off the average Briton's life expectancy - Health News - Health & Families - The Independent

However, in the context of remembering 'the father of the green revolution':
Futures Forum: Norman Borlaug and the “Green Revolution”: a centenary
it does seem that Saharan dust is to blame - and that we'll be having more:

Worsening Saharan dust storms to become an annual Spring fixture as climate changes


The Saharan dust storms thickening Britain’s smog and coating cars from Cornwall to Aberdeen will become increasingly strong in the coming years as a “nasty mixture” of drought, development and intensive farming in North Africa pushes up air pollution, a leading dust expert warned yesterday.

The rapid population growth in Western Sahel countries such as Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritani in the past 20 to 30 years has prompted a surge in agriculture which has greatly increased the amount of dust, Dr Robert Bryant, of Sheffield University, told The Independent.

He said there was every sign that the trend – which has also seen cars in Devon, London and Northern Ireland covered in a fine reddish-brown dust and caused breathing difficulties in asthma and chronic bronchitis sufferers – will continue.

“There has been a dramatic increase in some aspects of dust flux [emissions], which have doubled over the last 50 years. Population pressure alone is likely to exacerbate the problem and if current trends continue the amount could double again over the next 50 years,” said Dr Bryant, a Reader in Dryland Processes at the University of Sheffield.

Creating farmland generates dust because it often involves replacing the natural vegetation that keeps the soil in place, with a much sparser cover of crops that exposes the ground to the wind. Furthermore, as climate change increases the frequency and intensity of droughts, the amount of dust blown into the air will increase as more crops die and the soil becomes drier, Dr Bryant said.

The growing population in the Sahara has also generated a huge rise in other types of pollution, such as emissions from power stations, cars and mining, he added.

“These other types of pollution get mixed up with the dust to create a nasty mixture that can include airborne diseases such as foot and mouth and kind of extreme event could have serious health implications for the UK,” Dr Bryant said.
Smog expert: Worsening Saharan dust storms to become an annual Spring fixture as climate changes - Home News - UK - The Independent
Stimulating agricultural growth and rural development in sub-Saharan Africa

From the Mayor of London earlier this week:

Dust: who hasn’t been engulfed in that amazing London dust that eddies down the streets on a hot summer day? We’re talking dust composed of every form of pulverised detritus that you can imagine – a scalding sirocco of pores, pollen, desiccated dog turd, the fibrous remnants of a billion free newspapers, as well as tiny fragments of ground-up tyre and tarmac: all turned into an aerosol spray directed straight at the eyes and the back of our delicate throats.

And then there are the bad days – the special days – of the kind we had last week, when our natural smog is augmented by the afflatus of some distant country. Sometimes we get the dried slurry of Dutch pig farms; sometimes we get all the polyaromatic hydrocarbons and benzopyrenes of the collective barbecues of northern France and Flanders. Sometimes the parched topsoil of the Sahara settles on London and the whole of England; and no, you don’t have to tell me that poor air quality is a threat to health.

Forget Saharan dust – London’s air can be as pure as the Alps - Telegraph
London air pollution: Boris Johnson accused of 'complacency' after he reveals plan to 'beat smog' - Mayor - News - London Evening Standard
Andrew Neather: We need clearer thinking to rid London of smog - Comment - London Evening Standard

Other UK cities might provide an example of how to cope:
Futures Forum: Bristol: Britain's Green Capital 2015
How cities can help protect citizens from air pollution | The Great Debate UK
Cities bear the brunt of air pollution – they can also solve it | Leo Hollis | Comment is free | theguardian.com

But meanwhile, in Africa, the question seems to be how people are literally coping on the ground:

Some Land Grab Facts:

> In 2010 up to 123.5 million acres of African land — double the size of Britain — have been snapped up or is being negotiated by governments or wealthy investors.
> Ethiopia alone has approved 815 foreign-financed agricultural projects since 2007
> Oxfam International reported that Asian and Middle East companies had bought up 560 million acres of farmland in developing countries, often at bargain prices, with some reportedly less than $1 a hectare.
> Ethiopia now supports the export of fruit and vegetables worth $60 million annually, as well as flowers worth $160 million per year. Meanwhile, most of the indigenous population receives foreign food aid.
> Rich Arab states like Saudi Arabia have bought up huge tracts of land across Africa in recent years in a bid to combat global food shortages, water scarcity and desertification and to feed their swelling populations.

- Stop Africa Land Grab
The Great Africa Land Grab - The Ecologist
farmlandgrab.org | Bangladesh rents African land to boost food output
Wall Street’s Frightening and Predatory Land Grab in Africa | Common Dreams
UK ‘aid’ is financing a corporate scramble for Africa | Rent Grabbing
Land grabs in Africa, myth and reality | Africa - News and Analysis

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