NASA films giant dust-storms across US, Africa

from GEOFF HILL in Washington, USA
Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON, (CAJ News) IN the 1930s, the Midwestern United States suffered the hottest and driest weather on record and crops failed.

Cattle had been allowed to graze freely across the plains, even in dry months, eating what little cover there was and leaving the soil exposed.

Tractors were a new invention, and huge areas of grassland had been ploughed. When the wind came, it lifted tons of sand, then dropped it from the sky.

That was 90 years ago and the author John Steinbeck won a Nobel Prize for his writing about the “dust bowl”: sandstorms that saw the ruin of farms and wiped entire settlements off the map.

And the problem is back. In October 2020, NASA used a satellite camera to film a moving mountain of soil 300 kilometres wide and swirling 1 200 metres high, as it covered roads and buildings, silted dams and damaged crops.

On that day, Christi Stulp and her husband were at their farm in Colorado.

“It was Sunday afternoon and my husband was finishing planting wheat,” Mrs Stulp told the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation).

“He said I should go inside, make sure the kids were safe, batten down the hatches and wait for it to go by. It was moving the pastures, moving everything that day,” Mrs Stulp added.

According to the BBC Radio 4 programme, Inside Science, the cause is man-made.

NASA photo shows soil being stripped from the border of SA and Namibia. Photo by NASA

NASA photo shows soil being stripped from the border of SA and Namibia. Photo by NASA

NASA has also logged an increase in sandstorms across Africa. On a continent where an estimated 600 million people lack electricity, firewood is used for cooking and to heat homes, and the loss of trees has seen a rapid spread of desert.

Along the edge of the Sahara, winds of up to 90 kilometres per hour move the dunes in such volume they can strip paint from cars and buildings.

Forbes magazine warned that sand from the Sahara was moving fast and high enough to cross the Atlantic and reach North America.

On its website, NASA blames the African dust storms on ‘cutting of trees and overgrazing’, adding that ‘without vegetation to anchor the soil in place, wind erosion scours away the topsoil’.

In countries like Malawi, loosening the protective crust of the earth has had a different but equally serious effect: the silting of dams.

Crops grown illegally along river banks are washed away in a flood, with tons of soil churning in the flow until it reaches a dam where it fills the basin with mud.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), more than 200m hectares in Africa — an area four times the size of Botswana — could be earmarked for biofuel projects.

The African savanna, like the prairies, sustains a complex ecosystem that if disturbed could lead to the same problem seen in the US. Large parts of Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania have never been farmed intensively, with locals grazing cattle and growing market crops on a scale compatible with the land.

In West Africa, there has been conflict over fields taken from traditional owners for palm-oil plantations. Academic papers have noted the danger of land-wars if large areas are earmarked for biofuel, and rising food prices if current maize production is diverted to ethanol.

The new US dust-bowl has shown how quickly the over-use of land can bring disaster.
Namibia and the west coast of South Africa have been hit in recent years by clouds of dust.

“Grasslands with year-round cover have been ploughed up to make way for seasonal crops: echoes of what happened when tractors first arrived on the Great Plains,” presenter Roland Pease told listeners.

As in the 1930s, the affected area covers North and South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, western Minnesota and part of Colorado.

‘The irony is that, in much of the Mid-West, expansion of maize production has been encouraged by biofuel incentives, intended to offset global warming,” Mr Pease said.

In London, Dr Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) has called for a commission of inquiry into the biofuel industry, which, he says, is largely unregulated.

‘The threat of a new dust bowl is the direct yet unintended consequence of ill-conceived climate policies,” Dr Peiser said.

“While biofuel may attract investment from companies trying to go green, we must learn from history. Or the road to hell will be paved with good, green intentions.”

In September 2019, the airport at Alexander Bay north of Cape Town had to be closed because pilots were unable to see the runway.

NASA says it will continue to monitor the aerial movement of sand in both Africa and the Americas.

– CAJ News


Nigeria acquires second helicopter from Serbia

from EMEKA OKONKWO in Abuja, Nigeria
ABUJA, (CAJ News) THE acquisition of a Mi-171E helicopter from Serbia is anticipated to bolster the fight against the Boko Haram militants and other violent crimes in Nigeria.

The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) took delivery of the craft, the second of its kind bought by the West African country from Serbia, at its base in Markudi in the eastern Benue State on Wednesday afternoon.

Its components came aboard an Ilyushin 76 Strategic Airlifter aircraft.

The latest Mi-171E brings to 23 the total number of brand new aircraft acquired since 2015 when President Muhammadu Buhari won elections on a campaign premised on the fight against the Boko Haram.

“The new aircraft will undoubtedly boost NAF’s contributions in the fight against insurgency, armed banditry and other criminal activities in the country,” Air Commodore Ibinkule Daramola, the director of Public Relations and Information at the NAF, stated.

The newly-received aircraft will now be assembled in Makurdi by a team from the equipment vendor, assisted by NAF technicians, prior to test-flying and formal induction into the NAF In production since 1977, the Mi-171E was primarily used in Russia.

According to experts, prices vary based on specifications (military and civilian prices differ), the price of a Mi-17V-5 is €12.5 million.

Mi-171E is equipped with VK-2500-03 engines to operate in extreme temperature limits, from −58 to 50 Celsius.

Africa’s biggest country by population, estimated at over 206 million people, Nigeria is under threat of the Islamist Boko Haram sect.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 35 000 people have been killed while more than two million others were displaced northeast of the country during the violent campaign to establish as Islamic state.

Attacks started in 2009.

The killing of some 110 farmers and workers in the region last weekend is the largest death toll recorded so far this year.

At least 30 of the victims were reportedly beheaded and several women allegedly kidnapped.

The armed extremist group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the attack, which they asserted was collective punishment for the farmers collaborating with Nigeria’s security forces.

The attack while the civilians were tilling rice fields in the village of Koshobe outside the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, has sparked the outrage of the Security Council.

– CAJ News

























‘South Africa dropped ball on COVID-19 vaccine’

JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) REPORTS that South Africa has missed the payment deadline for participation in the coronavirus (COVID-19) initiative that would have given the country access to a vaccine have driven a wedge between government and the opposition.

It is the latest in a series of differences that have characterized the response to what has been the continent’s worst outbreak of the pandemic.

Reports that emerged on Thursday did not clarify who bundled the process between National Treasury and the Department of Health.

“It is unthinkable that the South African government would not be on top of a process this crucial for our country,” said Siviwe Gwarube, the Democratic Alliance (DA) Shadow Minister of Health.

“DA calls on President Cyril Ramaphosa to use the opportunity of his impending address to the nation to explain who dropped the ball on the procurement of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Ramaphosa is scheduled to address the nation before the end of the week.

With the pandemic surging in some regions, mostly the Eastern and Western Cape provinces, another hard lockdown is rumoured.

Gwarube said South Africa could not afford such.

“Therefore, our energies must be directed to obtaining a vaccine for our frontline workers and rolling it out as quickly and as efficiently as possible.”

South Africa has recorded 796 472 cases of COVID-16, including 21 709 deaths.

– CAJ News









Setback for no-confidence vote against Ramaphosa

JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) THE motion of a vote of no confidence against South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has suffered a double blow after opposition parties confirmed they would abstain.

Among the parties to abstain is the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA).

DA dismissed the motion of no confidence brought by the African Transformation Movement (ATM) as frivolous.

The opposition party believes the ATM is a side project of the factionalism within the ruling African National Congress (ANC), aligned to former national party president, Jacob Zuma, and ANC secretary-general, Ace Magashule.

ATM has two legislators in parliament and would thus require another faction of the ANC, aligned to Ramaphosa, to vote against the president.

“The motion will, therefore, not succeed and only offer an entertainment break from the work of Parliament,” said Natasha Mazzone (MP), the DA Chief Whip.

The United Democratic Movement (UDM) will also abstain.

This is in opposition to the Speaker of Parliament that the vote would not be on secret ballot.

“There is a principle involved here. It was a secret ballot for Zuma, why not here?” UDM leader, Bantu Holomisa, said.

– CAJ News



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