The dust dilemma

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The dust dilemma

Koreans finished their Lunar New Year holidays with an onslaught of suffocating yellow dust hitting the whole nation. The Korea Meteorological Administration issued a warning over fine dust yesterday following a yellow dust warning for Feb. 22 through 23. The local weather authorities have once again issued a yellow dust warning all across the country for the first time since May 2011. The government’s efforts to ratchet up the precision of its weather forecasts by enhancing its monitoring systems through more precise satellite imaging did not seem to work at all. The yellow dust this winter reminds us of the need to come up with fundamental solutions to tackle the ever-growing threat.

Weather specialists attribute the dust to a critical lack of snow in western and southern Mongolia - the origin of yellow dust - due to a serious drought affecting the region. The abnormal weather triggered rare winter sandstorms, which, in turn, had a severe impact on the Korean Peninsula. A bigger problem, though, is the remarkable frequency of sandstorms from about 20 a year three decades ago to about 60 now.

To curb the sandstorms that cause yellow dust, it’s essential to prevent the desertification of China and Mongolia. Beijing has so far struggled to avert desertification of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in the south of the Gobi Desert as well as the western part of China. When the Inner Mongolian government finishes a project to establish a forest zone 50 meters (164 feet) wide along a highway, a 400-kilometer (249-mile) green belt will be formed.

But the biggest problem is scarcity of funds for such megaprojects in Mongolia. At the moment, 90 percent of the country’s territory is vulnerable to desertification and as much as 80 percent of the land has already undergone desertification to some degree, as clearly seen in a 2010 investigation that found that 1,166 lakes, 877 rivers and 2,277 wells have already dried up. Scientists point out that natural factors account for 13 percent of the desertification, while human factors account for 87 percent. In Mongolia’s case, excessive livestock farming played the biggest role in the desertification of country.

The government must enhance cooperation with all parties involved to stop the desertification of Mongolia - the primary cause of the yellow dust reaching Korea - including economic aid to beef up environmental collaborations. Given the lack of resources, though, it would be the best for the government to seek international cooperation to end the dreadful desertification of Mongolia.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 24, Page 34

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