Dust in your face! Also your nose, mouth and lungs. But that’s the period which T&T is in, under siege from Sahara dust plus smoke from bush fires caused by the long dry season.
“The Sahara dust will be with us until about Wednesday, but it’s normal for this time of year,” meteorological officer Bagwandeen Ramdatt said yesterday.
The Met office yesterday charted a dust haze index of 32 degrees C for Trinidad and 31 degrees C for Tobago.
Ramdatt explained that the dust from the Sahara desert “ travels on low-level trade winds across the ocean reaching the Caribbean and sometimes even Central America. The dust wall can be thicker or thinner depending on wind speed. If the speed is strong, the haze will be thinner.
“Also, if winds are strong, it moves out of an area faster but if winds are moderate, it remains in the area—as with Trinidad and Tobago—a little longer. We had the experience last year and it’s occurring again, similarly thick like last year when wind speed was also very low and the haze was thick then also”
Ramdatt said the dust has become an annual recurring feature. However, apart from dust clogging the atmosphere and reducing visibility, he said the overall situation has been compounded by smoke from bush fires around the country. San Fernando Hill was almost wholly obscured by haze and smoke on Saturday.
In view of the situation, the Met Office issued an advisory to people suffering from respiratory diseases.
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh also told the T&T Guardian: “With the advent of the Sahara dust, everyone who suffers from respiratory issues—from allergies, asthma, bronchitis, COPD, sinus problems—needs to take special precautions, especially when they’re outside.”
COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a common lung disease which makes it hard to breathe. It involves chronic bronchitis, with long-term cough with mucus and emphysema, which causes damage to the lungs over time.
Deyalsingh added: “ With this dust, people should visit their primary health care source regularly, especially if displaying first signs of wheezing, coughing, runny nose, itchy eyes and get proper medications so it doesn’t escalate into something else.”
Local health facilities will continue expanding ahead, he said. Deyalsingh added that Cabinet has just approved the budget for construction of the new Sangre Grande hospital at about $900 million. It’s being built by Vamed, the same Austrian company building the Point Fortin hospital.
Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein said his ministry and the Agriculture Ministry are dealing with bush fires.
“But people can play their part also. We all know what the dry season brings with it so don’t start fires to clear landscapes and don’t throw cigarette butts out the car window,” he said.
- by Gail Alexander. Photo by Nicole Drayton.