UN, Iran urge cooperation to battle sandstorm threat
Countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia must work together to combat sand and dust storms made increasingly severe by climate change, the United Nations and Iran said Saturday.
"Cooperation is key. I urge you to use your time in Tehran to build partnerships, increase cooperation and commit to practical action," UN chief Antonio Guterres said in a video broadcast to representatives of around 50 states and 15 organisations.
Opening the International Conference on Combating Sand and Dust Storms, Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi called on countries in the region to create "a fund" to pursue common solutions.
According to meteorologists, sand and dust storms are expected to increase in the countries most vulnerable to climate change.
"About two billion tons of dust enters the atmosphere each year, affecting more than 350 million people," Food and Agriculture Organization Assistant Director-General AbdulHakim Elwaer told the meeting.
The people most affected are "farmers and those whose income depends directly on natural resources", he said.
Iran, co-organiser of the two-day gathering, is one country where such storms are increasingly numerous, particularly in the southeast desert region of Sistan-Baluchistan where rare wetlands are drying up at an alarming rate.
This has caused diplomatic tensions with neighbouring Afghanistan, which Tehran accuses of considerably reducing the volume of water in the Helmand River which flows through both countries.
To its west, Iran is also cooperating with neighbouring Iraq to combat the effects of sand and dust storms.
"Fortunately, we have reached some very good operational stages with Iraq," Ali Salajegheh, head of Iran's department of the environment, said at the conference.
He added that "ground and field operations" were due to start in six provinces in both countries.
In his opening address, President Raisi blamed industrialised countries "for many problems, for not taking environmental issues into account and favouring their own economic interests and military development".