November of every year ushers in the harmattan season in this part of the world which lasts into the first two or three months of next year. Harmattan brings with it hot, dry and dusty winds that blow across West Africa from the Sahara Desert into the Gulf of Guinea. Harmattan season is also associated with low humidity. As a result, the weather is harsh to the skin and body. The skin is dry and lips crack. Studies have also shown that some micro-organisms that cause diseases abound during harmattan period.
Harmattan dust particles aggravate respiratory tract infections, eye irritations, pneumonia, catarrh, cough and other ailments. Asthmatic patients, in particular, are prone to suffer during harmattan. While meteorologists are already predicting more intense harmattan haze than was experienced last year, we advise people to limit their exposure to dust. People should also take more liquid, especially water, during harmattan to prevent dehydration and heatstroke. Air-conditioners should also be serviced to avoid inducing harmattan symptoms.
People should observe high level of personal hygiene as the infection is often spread from person to person through sneezing and coughing. Windows, fans should be wiped with wet rags. Sickle cell anaemia patients should take precaution and keep warm as much as possible to prevent a crisis. The skin can be kept healthy by application of oily creams and weather friendly clothing. Lip balms or the application of Vaseline to the soles of the feet will prevent them from cracking. Wearing warm clothes will keep us warm and protect us from the severe cold. Proper eye hygiene by rinsing with clean water and reducing exposure to the dust by wearing protective spectacles is also advised.
The harmattan has some positive sides. For example, a severe harmattan season is a precursor to good agricultural activities and rich harvest. Fruit trees like mangoes, avocado, guava, among others blossom with flowers and fruit during harmattan. Traditionally, farmers use the period to clear farms and get them ready for planting.
But we should also be wary of fire incidents during this period. This is the season of bush burning in preparation for the next cropping season and catching of rodents but in the process we destroy useful forest cover as well as wildlife and small animals. Bush burning also has negative effects on soil conditions; it reduces the nutrients and manure in our farmlands and soils may take much longer to recover, thus leading to desertification. Bush fires could also run out of control and affect villages and towns.
Harmattan season is also unfriendly to aviation. Aircraft pilots have been urged to exercise maximum restraint on observation of strong surface wind, fog or harmattan haze. Where visibility falls below the prescribed minimum, NCAA has said flight operations are likely to be delayed, diverted or out rightly cancelled. Midway into the ember months, people are preparing for mass travel, hence the need for additional caution. At Ilorin airport for instance, the air-to-ground visibility has consistently dropped in the last couple of days making it difficult for safe flight operations.
As climate change proceeds, stakeholders, who provide society with the information needed to manage the risks and costs associated with climate change are watching with interest the emerging ability to predict how global warming will change, or has changed, the probability and magnitude of extreme weather and other climate-related events. Extreme weather and changing weather patterns, the obvious manifestations of global climate change, do not simply reflect easily identifiable changes in Earth’s energy balance such as a rise in atmospheric temperature. Solid understanding of these factors is crucial if researchers are to improve the performance of, and confidence in, the climate models on which event attribution and longer term climate projections depend. Here’s wishing all Nigerians a healthy and stress-free harmattan season.