Toxic storms blamed on climate change cloud Tajikistan

The air was dry and warm and the skies over Dushanbe were gray without a hint of sun during another recent toxic sand storm that enveloped the capital of Tajikistan.

Storms like this, which experts say are being caused by climate change, are becoming increasingly frequent across Central Asia, harming its inhabitants.

Tajikistan was ranked one of the top 10 most polluted countries in the world in the 2022 IQAir air quality index.

“I can’t stop coughing. I’m fed up with this dust choking me,” Munira Khushkadamova, a teacher, said during a visit to the Sofia clinic in Dushanbe.

For the last two years, the 43-year-old has been suffering from respiratory failure—a diagnosis given to her from her doctor Faical Sakhray.

“In the last few years I have been getting more and more patients with cardiovascular diseases,” he told AFP, blaming fine particles from the storms.

“The biggest ones enter the organism and stay in the upper respiratory tract but the finer ones go into the lower respiratory tract, then the lungs, the heart and other organs,” he said.

The United Nations estimates that 80 percent of the Tajik population is exposed to the highest levels of fine particles, known as PM2.5.

These types of storms used to be rare but they now start in spring and continue into the autumn in large parts of Central Asia.

“In the 1990s, there were two or three sand and dust storms per year in Tajikistan. Now there can be up to 35,” said Zebuniso Muminzoda, head of the Tajik branch of the Regional Environmental Centre for Central Asia.

“Because of climate change, longer dry seasons lead to sand and dust storms by drying out the ground and stronger winds then pick up this dry soil,” she said.