WHAT IS HARMATTAN?
The Harmattan is a cold-dry and dusty trade wind, blowing over the West African subcontinent. This northeasterly wind blows from the Sahara Desert into the Gulf of Guinea between the end of November and the middle of March. It consists of fine dust particles between 0.5 and 10 micrometres.
In a nutshell, harmattan is a Natural Hazard which induces desert-like weather conditions: it lowers the humidity, dissipates cloud cover, prevents rainfall formation and sometimes creates big clouds of dust or sand which can even result in violent dust-storms or sandstorms
RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH HARMATTAN
Fire outbreaks constitute one of the common risks during harmattan; quite a lot of fire outbreaks are often recorded since there is dry wind, which makes it easy for fire to spread at the slightest ignition causing destruction of lives and property.
One other source of harmattan fire is petrol kept at homes, offices and such other unusual places during this season.
The harmattan haze can reduce visibility. Drivers beware!
Pilots should also take note that visibility is reduced due to high concentration of dust particles in the air which may sometimes impede air travel.
All Drivers are advised to be conscious of the foggy weather condition, early morning and late evening mists which are usually associated with the harmattan season.’
This is the period when the Asthmatic people suffer more crises.Many also suffer pneumonia and bronchitis, especially the very young and the aged.The skin is usually dry with accompanying cracking of the lips, sole of the feet and even the skin itself.The eyes are directly exposed. Thus itching, foreign body sensation and redness may be common especially in individuals with allergic eye disease.The dry, cold and dusty wind associated with Harmattan also triggers sickle cell crises in affected individuals.Another condition that can be brought about by the harmattan period is nose bleeding because of dry mucus lining of the nose and a lot of nose picking.Prolonged daily exposure to cold weather is an open invitation to diseases like rheumatism, pneumonia and arthritis; and, in severe cases, death from hypothermia.The epidemic of meningococcal meningitis is usually experienced between February to May in the ‘meningitis belt’, northern Nigeria inclusive, is an aftermath of Harmattan.Loss of water (dehydration) is very prevalentThroat gets sore, sneezing is frequent, frequent headaches, sputum in your saliva because of catarrh and then cold and over time, cough. All these symptoms for just one season!
Food borne diseases:
Because of the dusty atmosphere, there is need to imbibe healthy food preservation culture especially food hawkers such as fruits, vegetables etc to prevent food borne diseases.
People can also contract gastroenteritis or infectious diarrhea during the season because of scarcity of water. Environmental hygiene is usually poor whenever there is inadequate water supply.
BENEFITS OF HARMATTAN
The Harmattan, despite its adverse health effects, is not without some benefits to man. For example,
The low temperature associated with it is unfavorable for breeding of mosquitoes thus reducing the incidence of malaria.The cool wind also brings relief from the oppressive heat. It also makes for some beautiful sunrises and sunsets!While the season lasts, couples are ‘inspired’ to cling more closely together, cuddling like new newborns at nights.During harmattan period, faces are smooth and acne free? Ladies can now use as much make up as they want without the heat melting it down their faces.
SAFETY TIPS DURING HARMATTAN
Implement preventive fire safety measures; no bush burning, prevent electrical sparks and avoid indiscriminate storage of fuel etcDrivers should drive with lights on low beam in view of reflections from high beams that heighten poor visibility during this period.Asthmatic patients should reduce exposure to the dusty atmosphere in addition to having their inhaler with them all the time.Keep your skin healthy by topical application of oily creams and weather friendly dressing.Avoid excessive use of antiseptic soaps; the use of very strong antiseptics tend to make the skin to dry upProper eye hygiene in form of washing with clean water, reduced exposure to dust and wearing of protective spectacles should be encouragedPatients with sickle cell anaemia should be vigilant and keep warm as much as possible to prevent crises.Fruits and vegetables should be properly washed before eating.It is unhealthy for people to patronize all manner of food hawkers throughout the season.Our drinking water containers should be properly covered.Routine Meningitis immunizations should be in top gear around this period.Lots of fluid should be taken to compensate for loss of water from the body into the atmosphere through respiration, perspiration and urination.