The Harmattan is a dry and dusty northeastern trade wind which blows from the Sahara Desert over the West African subcontinent into the Gulf of Guinea between the end of November and the middle of March. On its passage over the Sahara, it picks up fine dust and sand particles. The Harmattan is characterised by cold, dry, dust-laden wind and also wide fluctuations in the temperatures of the day and night. Temperatures can be as low as 9 degrees Celsius a day, but sometimes in the afternoon it can soar as high as 30 degrees Celsius, while the relative humidity drops under 10 percent. The Harmattan wind increases the risk of fire outbreaks which cause severe crop damage especially, in farming communities. The interaction of the Harmattan with monsoon winds can cause Harmattan haze.
In some countries in West Africa, the heavy amounts of dust in the air severely limit visibility and block the sun for several days. Studies have shown that health humidity drops as low as 15 percent, which can result in spontaneous for nose bleeding for some people. Other health effects on humans may include condition of the itchy skin and eyes. It also aggravates of asthmatic attacks. The National Fire Service is always on high alert during harmattan season to prevent fire outbreaks. Prior to the onset of this weather, Personnel of the Service step up the efforts to address the incidence of bush fires which mostly increase during the period. Due to inadequate numbers, Fire Service relies on volunteers to create public awareness on fire prevention. According to Billy Anaglate of the Public Relations Division of the Service, fire volunteers have been trained and deployed to areas where there are no fire stations. This is a proactive measure to minimise the effects of fires on lives and property, food security and biodiversity in general. Not only are bush fires a problem but domestic fires tend to be on the increase. The public is usually advised to critically examine their electrical appliances and replace old ones because the older an appliance or socket, the more susceptible they are to fire.
Apart from fire outbreaks that are associated with the weather, some health problems like eyes and nose, mouth and respiratory tract diseases have severe impact on infants, children and the elderly. A lot of people also experience allergic reactions and this result in excessive sneezing, cough, catarrh and nasal bleeding. Individuals with pre-existing chronic chest infections are encouraged to take precautions during this period in order not to worsen their condition. Due to poor visibility as a result of the hazy condition, we tend to register road accidents. So motorists are to drive cautiously with the headlights on when necessary. This weather also affects air traffic leading to the cancellation of flights and its economic implications for the aviation operators and the travelling public. But like a bittersweet pill, Harmattan is not entirely negative. During this period, people with acne get relieved because that breakout is reduced, and for the ladies their makeup stays longer without melting down due to excessive sweating. It is important people during this period moisturize their body well while kids and the vulnerable should wear clothes appropriate for the weather. On domestic fires, gas cylinders should be turned off when not in use likewise electric gadgets. People must stay away from that when necessary. Though the negatives outweigh the positives during the harmattan taking precaution on roads, avoid setting unnecessary bush fire and being health cautious is the way to go.
BY JOYCE GYEKYE, ENVIRONMENTAL JOURNALIST.