Saturday, 2nd December 2023

As harmattan season unleashes intense weather, drop in humidity

By Eno-Abasi Sunday (Lagos) Joseph Wantu (Makurdi), Eric Meya (Sokoto), Akin Alofetekun (Minna), Murtala Adewale (Kano), Abiodun Fagbemi (Ilorin) and Joke Falaju (Abuj)
12 January 2020   |   4:20 am
Like Awoyemi, Nigerians in many parts of the country, have been battling the harsh harmattan and the accompanying haze and its side effects.

• Doctor Advise On More Fluid Intake, Less Exposure To Windy Cold
• Night Journeys Put On Hold At Minna Parks
• Harmattan Paralyses Nightlife, Disrupt Flight Schedules In Kano.

On Wednesday December 7, 2020, at 9:08 pm, a worried Olufemi Awoyemi tweeting from his verified handle, @Olufemi Awoyemi exclaimed, “God Almighty! At the Lagos Intl Airport to pick up my nephew on a Paris-Lag flight… got a text from him that they just announced in the plane that they have landed in Cotonou because Lagos could not light up the runway.

No one knows when the lights will come on. @NigerianCAA.

Shortly after the Air France flight from Paris, France, was diverted to Cotonou, Benin Republic, owing to low visibility occasioned by heavy harmattan haze, Awoyemi followed up with another tweet: “@hadisirika @airfrance @FAAN_Official. Is there someone who can clarify what the correct status is and what would happen next? We have a minor on the flight Pls. @Alero5.”

Forty-two minutes later, the Federal Airport Authority Of Nigeria (FAAN) on its official Twitter account @FAAN_Official confirmed: “The flight was diverted due to low visibility caused by harmattan haze, be assured they are safe and would be with you as soon as they have the all-clear to land in Lagos. Thank you.”

Like Awoyemi, Nigerians in many parts of the country, have been battling the harsh harmattan and the accompanying haze and its side effects.

For instance, in Kano, a tri-cyclist better known as Keke Napep marked KMC 19 1143, trended on Twitter for several hours on Tuesday, when its driver and passenger were spotted wrapped in a heavy blanket to brace the biting cold in Kano.

In parts of the North, including Yobe State, the temperature fell to as low as 10 ° on Sunday, January 5, and the freezing morning cold sent people scampering for warm clothing.

Concerned by the effect and health consequences of extreme cold on Almajiri children in some northern cities including Nasarawa, and Plateau states, as well as Abuja, a group, the Bridge Builders Foundation, launched the Almajiri Harmattan Clothing Appeal, where it is channeling donated items for Almajiri and other vulnerable children in these locations.

Apart from the 18 mobile phone numbers, where the group said it could be contacted for donations, it also supplied a Zenith account number, where donations could also be sent to.

The President and Medical Director of Barn Medical Doctors Mission, a non-governmental organisation, Dr. Barnabas Herbert said harmattan, which originates from the dry and dusty trade winds that blow from the Sahara desert, over West Africa, usually comes between the end of November and the middle of March.

“During this time, humidity drops to as low as 12 to 15 per cent and affects exposed surfaces of humans, which communicate directly with the atmosphere, such as the skin, eyes, mouth and the respiratory tract. Apart from the excessive dryness of the skin, there is also the possibility of loss of heat (hypothermia) by the skin, which affects mostly infants, children and the elderly. Hypothermia is a condition in which the body loses more heat than it can produce. It is best prevented, as it could be a medical emergency.”

He said the best way to protect individuals from the harmful effect of the harmattan wind is to keep them warm by using blankets. “The eyes, having been exposed to the dust particles carried by the dry, cold and dusty wind, can present symptoms such as itching, redness, and a feeling or sensation that something is stuck in the eyes (foreign body sensation). Proper eye hygiene and care in the form of washing with clean water can help reduce exposure to dust. Also, the use of protective spectacles is recommended during this period. The nose is the point of entry for air that gets into the lungs and is usually irritated by the dust particles in the harmattan wind, which can trigger some form of allergic reactions and can manifest as excessive sneezing, cold, and catarrh.

“Individuals previously diagnosed with allergic or non-allergic rhinitis may also experience acute exacerbation of the condition. Do not use mentholated inhalers or apply rub to your nostrils, as that could cause a (rare) condition known as exogenous lipoid pneumonia. Rather than use inhalers, give the elders hot tea and children beverages. Infants should simply be kept warm and properly fed. Also, do not pick your nose as this could cause you to bleed. If the nose gets too dry, try getting a saline spray or do a simple steam inhalation at home (be careful of hot water burns),” Herbert said.

He added that anything that affects the nostrils can also affect the throat and lungs, and will manifest as an increase in cough reflex, recurrent infections of the upper and lower respiratory tract, which is why individuals previously diagnosed with asthma, or smokers already suffering from chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD), may experience more frequent attacks at this time.

The medical practitioner added that individuals that are affected by these conditions should take special precautions to reduce exposure to the dusty atmosphere and should have their inhaler handy at all times.

While commenting on other medical conditions that the harmattan wind can induce, he said it could also trigger a crisis in patients with sickle cell anaemia. “This is because the oxygen content in the blood is reduced in extremes of temperatures (cold in this case). Therefore, patients with sickle cell anaemia should take due precautions and keep themselves as warm as possible to prevent a crisis. The place of adequate nutrition cannot be overemphasised; fruits and vegetables should be properly washed and consumed during this period and daily water intake of about two to three litres is encouraged. Due to the extremely dry weather, there is also a possibility for an outbreak of Meningococcemia, a condition caused by Neisseria meningitides, in some parts of the country, hence unimmunised individuals need to update their immunisation shots to protect themselves and their loved ones. For health conditions that persist, despite simple home remedies, a visit to the doctor’s clinic should be initiated as soon as reasonably possible.”

Plateau State is one of the worst-hit states, and experts attribute the harsh and severe weather conditions there to climate change.

For sometime now, Jos, the state capital and its environs have been experiencing severe cold, which is not only affecting people’s lifestyles, but also their mode of dressing in particular.

For now, Jos residents, especially the young ones have jettisoned fashionable apparel for those that cover most parts of their bodies, leaving out just their faces, while older persons, who have no compelling reasons to be out have been advised to stay indoors.

Unfortunately, two children have already fallen victim to the harmattan. They died after inhaling fumes from the charcoal, which they burnt in the room to keep themselves warm. The fumes from the charcoal (which is said to have come from a poisonous tree), reportedly ensured that the kids, who went to bed safe and sound never woke up in Gangare Community, Jos North. Six other people who did not die were rushed to the Salma Hospital in Fillin Sukwa Community, also in Jos North.

This ugly development in the rural community explains why a social worker advised that hygienic ways of keeping warm during the period be adopted, through the use of warm clothing and blankets, instead of warming rooms with the burning of charcoal, which could be poisonous.

Commenting on the development, the Assistant Chief Scientific Officer, National Centre for Remote Sensing (NCRS) in Jos, Kehinde Ogunmola said: “The extreme weather condition being experienced is as a result of climate change and human activities. The situation we have in Jos is not surprising. Several years ago, this was experienced and this might be happening in cycles. There was a year in the 1980s that it was this cold too. So, this could be happening in cycles, but we are still looking. It is not far-fetched that global warming is having its effect on us,” Ogunmola explained.

In 1982 specifically, the harmattan was harsher and it lasted for over three weeks. And at that time, there was no advancement in technology, especially effective passage information. The harmattan that year affected the aviation industry as there was no visibility at all for almost three weeks, hence airplanes could neither land nor take off. There were casualties at that time.

According to a retired airport worker, what obtained then was worse than what is happening now since flights are still taking off and landing at the Jos Airport.

Another resident of Jos, Mr. Sabo Usman, who is also a retired civil servant, told The Guardian that during the 1982 experience, visibility was so low that vehicles had to put on their headlamps during the day to warn oncoming vehicles.

According to a resident, Ringdam Pwajok: “Even when I am heavily decked like a masquerade, the cold is still penetrating my body. Everybody is looking for something thick to cover up, which is why I am here to buy a fairly used jacket to put on top of what I am wearing already.”

Sellers of second-hand clothing in Jos are right now making brisk business as demand for their goods is very high.

According to one of them in Jos metropolis, Istifanus, “more people are coming to buy jackets and other warm clothing and this is as a result of cold weather in Jos. Some people are coming from Pankshin, Mangu and other places to buy a sweater and jackets. Patronage is high, and we thank God.”

Commenting on the development, a medical practitioner, Dr. Humlong Fidelis of the Plateau State Specialist Hospital, Jos, said harmattan comes with illnesses, adding that asthmatic patients who expose themselves to the windy cold are likely to accelerate attacks.

As the condition persists, he advised people to wear clothes that will keep them warm all the time not to be down with catarrh, dry skin, running nose, cough, respiratory tract infections, and others during the period.

Residents of Niger State, especially those in Kontagora, Bida and Minna were ushered into the New Year with the kind of harmattan that they have never witnessed in the last 10 years.

Signs that the harmattan would be different from what the people were used to started showing about one week to Christmas, and people made it a point of duty not to leave their homes without putting on something thick. And by December 31, 2019, the use of head warmers and nose coverings had become the norm.

Mallam Lati, a driver who plies Kontagora to Minna told The Guardian that the harmattan is so severe that drivers were advised not to leave motor parks anytime earlier than 6:30 am to avoid running into hazy weather.

“The situation has been like that every year, but this year, it came with a difference because it was the first time that any travel advisory was being issued. Again, the directive as to when to depart the park was imperative to prevent avoidable accidents.

“With the fact that most of our roads are bad, coupled with the state of the weather, it would be an open invitation to ghastly motor accidents if we had not regulated departure time from the park.”

On the weekend after Christmas, no fewer than two fatal accidents occurred in the state, which was directly linked to poor visibility occasioned by harmattan haze. In all, a total of nine lives were lost in the accidents.

The two commercial vehicles were among those that operated night journey on the Minna to Lagos route.

“When these happened, we had to temporarily put on hold, night journeys by vehicles,” Alhaji Abubakar Ahmad, a chieftain of the driver’s union in Minna, disclosed to The Guardian, in Minna.

Another area where harmattan took its toll on the people was in the market and schools, which now open late, while even civil servants arrive offices late using the raging harmattan as an excuse.

Benue State is still being ravaged by the cold, hazy dry wind, which has brought about ailments like cough, catarrh and sundry nasal infections.

In Makurdi, the state capital, residents no longer stay late outside for fear of catching a cold due to the heavy, gusty winds.

A shop owner in Wurukum, John Skaater told The Guardian that since harmattan descended on the city, he closes shop at 6 pm to avoid the dry, but cold wind.

He, however, said that the weather condition has boosted sales of some of his wares, including petroleum jellies, oily creams, and the likes.

A driver with one of the major transport companies in the state, Terser Abomshi, said the effect of the wind on interstate transportation has been devastating. Those of them that drive from Makurdi to the far northern states are facing very devastating times. In fact, to drive to states in the far North, including Katsina, Kano, and Borno states, is now a dreaded exercise, as the volume of the wind is so much. You cannot see clearly within a distance of 200 metres because everywhere is hazy and visibility very poor.

“The management of my company had to provide all its drivers with thick jackets and blankets for their use, as a precautionary measure against cold, “Abomshi said.

A public health expert, Dr. Seate Madume, advised members of the public to always cover their bodies well with thick clothes, and avoid the temptation of bathing with cold water.

He also said it was important for people to help themselves with medically approved inhalers to avoid getting catarrh, or dry throats.

The Guardian findings revealed that the harmattan is more severe in rural areas of the state, while city centres are also getting their fair share of the troubling weather.

Sokoto State has recorded temperatures below 20’c since the beginning of harmattan, contrary to the over 50’c that it usually experiences during the dry season.

And because of the poor visibility caused by the haze, many flights to the state have either been cancelled or rescheduled.

Motorists are also compelled to put on their headlights even in the afternoon as a result of the poor visibility to avoid accidents.

The consumption of cold water and cold drinks has drastically reduced, while the consumption of hot tea has increased. Roadside tea sellers have been making brisk business.

A female shopkeeper told The Guardian that her customers’ demand for sachet water has dropped to less than 50 per cent.

Apart from wearing thick clothes to keep warm, taking a cold bath is now a no-go area for most people. If they must bath at all, it must be with warm water. Others simply brush their teeth, wash their legs, apply perfume and move on.

While a few privileged ones that can afford electric heaters warm their rooms, the very poor resort to staying by fireplaces.

Dry skins and dry lips are the order of the day, coupled with breathing-related ailments such as cold, running nose, sneezing, cough, bronchitis, and pneumonia. The dust also provokes asthmatic attacks in sufferers.

Some people, especially the elderly, also contend with joint pains and rheumatism as a result of the cold.
Ironically, unlike the saying that “early to bed, early to rise,” people now go to bed early, but wake up late as a result of the cold.

To protect their eyes from dust and stinging cold, many people have resorted to using eyeglasses and wearing surgical masks to avoid inhaling contaminated and dusty air.

Before harmattan arrived, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had issued a travel advisory, where it cautioned pilots and other aviation operators on harmattan haze.

Titled NCAA Cautions Pilots, Operators On Harmattan Haze,” the statement read: “In its resolve to ensure safe flight operations in Nigeria airspace, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has issued Advisory Circular to intimate pilots, operators and other stakeholders about dust haze (harmattan) and safety approach to adopt.

“This Advisory Circular AC: NCAA-AEROMET-28 dated 12th November 2019 is intended to alert pilots to the hazards associated with dust haze, which is a dry and dusty wind that blows south from the Sahara across Nigeria. This situation is expected to persist until March 2020.

The advisory was signed by the General Manager, Public Relations, Sam Adurogboye.

The Nigerian Metrology Agency (NIMET) in a new advisory alerted airlines and motorists of a fresh dust haze over parts of the country, saying: “A further incursion into the southern parts is expected to reduce visibility to values within 1000m-3000m in few days. Some cities over these regions are expected to be in visibility less than 1000m (1Km).

“Some stations over the northern parts of the country are already in hazy conditions with visibility as low as 300m, especially over north eastern cities. Maiduguri and Kano are currently reporting visibility of 300m.”
The statement signed by the General Manager, Corporate Communications, Muntari Yusuf Ibrahim, however, alerted that the reduction in horizontal visibility would have economic consequences on the aviation industry due to flights delays and cancellations.

Nightlife in the ancient city of Kano took a serious hit as the cold weather occasioned by harmattan bites harder.

With temperatures plunging as low as between 9 and 12 degrees Celsius, forcing most night crawlers to stay indoors, and hitherto busy nightspots are now ghost towns with patronage at its lowest ebb.

On their parts, some government offices and private concerns that routinely open for business at 8am, now hardly come alive until about 10am, a condition attributed to the cold weather.

But the harsh weather notwithstanding, dealers in second-hand cloths are still making brisk businesses, and smiling to the bank as wearing of multiple thick clothing that absorb the cold is the fad. Consequently, those that did not have them are on a shopping spree.

The harmattan haze has also left hundreds of air travellers stranded at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), Kano.

Recently, airline operators were compelled to cancel already scheduled domestic and international flights for safety reasons.

Faraq Malami, media aide to member representing Kano Municipal at the House of Representatives, Shaaban Ibrahim Sharada, told The Guardian that an Ethiopian airline conveying his principal from Saudi Arabia to Kano few days ago, was disrupted by the harmattan haze.

Malami disclosed that the flight scheduled to touch down at MAKIA, by 9am, last Sunday, was diverted to Niger, which was not conducive for landing as at 6pm, before the flight was forced to return the passengers back to Saudi Arabia.

Residents of Ilorin, the Kwara State capital are still trying to come to terms with the cold, windy harmattan haze, which has taken them hostage for days now.

The change in the weather, a climatologist at the University of Ilorin, Dr. Raheem Usman, said affected
many Nigerian cities, especially those with high altitudes, where temperature could be as low as 9 degree Celsius.

Already, the mode of dressing of Ilorin residents, as well as those of some other major towns such as Offa, Omuaran, Malete, Pategi and Kiama, has changed dramatically.

Some residents of the state now await sunrise before venturing out of their homes, that is, after taking warm baths.

The very poor visibility on major roads in the state, has forced vehicular traffic to go at snail’s speed in parts of the state.

The Director of Operations, FRSC, Zonal Command Incharge of Kogi, Kwara and Ekiti states, Mr. Sunday Ogungbemi, advised motorists to put on their headlamps while using the roads at dawn and at dusk to avert head-on collisions.