Sunday Magazine

Harmattan fuels wildfire, worsen asthmatic attacks –Experts

We make more money during Harmattan –SPA


Harmattan is around the corner and experts have cautioned on indiscriminate burning of bush, farms and living surroundings, as such practice can be disastrous in the harmattan period even as the season is proven to be tragic to asthma attacks and other health conditions. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA reports



Nigerians have been warned against indiscriminate burning of debris around the living places, bushes and farmland or storage of inflammable materials at home to avoid harmattan fire during this festive period.


Experts warned that there dangers of wild fire during this period, which is the reason those who use cooking gas at home should ensure they check their cookers to ensure that an outbreak of fire is nipped on the bud.


They insist that extra caution should be exercised with electrical appliances while you should avoid any illegal electrical connections, saying that procurement of fire extinguishers in case of any emergency is of grave importance.



An environmentalist, Dr. Samuel Chukwunulu said fires tend to get aggravated during harmattan, hence there is the need to avoid indiscriminate burning, saying that any form of domestic burning in this season must be well monitored.


He noted that most fire accidents happen in this season due to the fact that everywhere is dry and the fire can easily travel without restrictions. Speaking further, he advised Nigerian farmers to take precautionary measures against man-made disasters during the period. “No burning of farmlands and bushes is encouraged in this season,” he added. Corroborating him, a soil scientist, Prof. Victor Chude said farmers should avoid indiscriminate bush burning after they have harvested their crops.


Chude said that farmers should gather trash at various spots before burning bushes as a way of clearing the land before the next cropping season. He stated that bush burning during harmattan could be very disastrous as it could affect the neighbouring farms with economic trees and destroy important micronutrients in the soil.


He said: “We will not advise farmers to just set the whole farm ablaze as a way of clearing his land because it will be difficult to control at this time. “If it is a forest area where the undergrowth is very thick, the duration of burning will be longer and this is very destructive to some essential soil micro-organisms in the soil that perform the job of ‘mineralisation’ of nutrients in their organic form and make them soluble.


“When those micro-organisms are destroyed, the nutrient will remain in the organic form and in terms of availability to crops during cropping, it will be a problem. “What we advise them is to first slash and then do spot burning; if there are trees, they should do selective cutting of trees so that the whole place is not exposed to erosion.”


Sunday Telegraph learnt that is the time many people go about with cracked lips, heels and whitish rough skin, which explain the season in the country. It’s that time people bathe with slightly above warm water while many others shun morning baths.

Of course, the children are warned not to take their bath until later in the day to ensure that they do not suffer the cold or pneumonia as a result of the harmattan. By way of definition, Harmattan, itself, is a season in the West African subcontinent, which occurs between the end of November and the middle of March. It is characterised by the dry and dusty northeasterly trade wind, of the same name, which blows from the Sahara Desert over West Africa into the Gulf of Guinea. It’s that time of the year again when the dry air attacks our nostrils, there’s dust everywhere and the skin tends to get ashy quickly.


The Harmattan season is pigeonholed by dry, draughty air, dust and cold. “Visiting Nigeria for the first time during this period might give a whole different experience. In some parts of Nigeria, such as Lagos, harmattan can hardly be felt during these periods until last week,” says Brimoh Eurukeme. He noted that places closer to the Sahara/ Gulf of Guinea which are in the direction of the wind, harmattan effects can be quite severe. For many states, he noted, harmattan is characterised by very cold temperatures, especially in the mornings/nights and very hot weather in the afternoons. The humidity also drops really low and the air is dusty.


“This means the skin has a tendency to dry up quickly and the wind can be assaulting the respiratory system, which medical experts say have worsened asthmatic attacks and other health conditions,” he quipped. It was learnt that the temperature is cold in most places, but can also be hot in certain places, depending on local circumstances.

The Harmattan blows during the dry season, which occurs during the lowest-sun months. According to meteorological findings, in this season, the subtropical ridge of high pressure stays over the central Sahara Desert and the low-pressure Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) stays over the Gulf of Guinea. Then, on its passage over the Sahara, the harmattan picks up fine dust and sand particles.


This season differs from winter, because it is written off as cold, dry, dust-laden wind, and also wide fluctuations in the ambient temperatures of the day and night. Sunday Telegraph learnt that temperatures can easily be as low as 9 °C (48 °F) all day, but sometimes in the afternoon the temperature can also soar to as high as 30 °C (86 °F), while the relative humidity drops under five per cent.


Humidity drops to as low as 15%, can result in spontaneous nosebleeds for some people. For Pastor Victor Balogun, harmattan is his worst season in the year as it makes him sick and uncomfortable. “I wish this season didn’t come but it will come and do its work and fulfill the purpose it was created. But I don’t like it at all,” he said. Sequel to the challenges people go through due to changes in weather, and owing to the reality on the ground, experts have warned on how to survive the harmattan period and also issued safety precautions to be followed to cushion its effect in the country. Sunday Telegraph observes that surviving the harmattan season is not only all about the attire one wears, yet it is one of the key things you must consciously do to stay healthy throughout such a season.


A surgeon and a medical doctor at the Epe General Hospital, Dr. Cynthia Obiora said a good knowledge of what to wear at the right time is key during this season, saying the early hours of the day are always extremely cold during harmattan. “As such, you should try to wear thick clothes to keep the body warm.


Those who work in offices with a number of air-conditioners should always have their body properly covered during such periods,” she warned. Dr. Obiora’s husband is being affected by the season, which he called the worst season for him as it brings about different health challenges to him including running nose and wheezing breathing.


Corroborating him, the Medical Director of LifeCrest Medical Services, Dr. Malomo Bamidele, also cautioned Nigerians against exposing their bodies to cold during Harmattan to guard against pneumonia and other complications associated with the season.


He said a cold that gets worse can turn into pneumonia because the cold will irritate the lungs, creating an environment where it becomes easy for germs to start an infection. According to him, studies have shown that pneumonia is the leading cause of death among children under five, saying it is necessary to take precautions, especially in caring for the children.


He noted that pneumonia is most common among those with weak or compromised immune systems and people suffering from other diseases, saying it’s important to give children foods rich in vitamins, especially fresh fruits to help them in this period.


The general physician stated that people become dehydrated easily during the season, hence there is the need for them to avoid carbonated drinks and juices, rather drink enough water, at least, 1.5 litres of water every day, which would help in keeping the whole body system working optimally. “It is important to increase the amount of fluid and fruits intakes such as watermelon, oranges among others.


Staying hydrated keeps the skin refreshed and glowing while helping the body to function optimally,” he added. He believes that using skin moisturisers is a must during the season as they will increase the skin’s water content by reducing evaporation, saying that Vitamin C intake would help reduce the likelihood of one contracting catarrh.


More so, the past President of Nigerian Thoracic Society (NTC), who is also the Foundation Asthma foundation, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Prof. Gregory Erhabor said the season which breeds a lot of dust will affect asthmatic patients. He described Asthma as a chronic disease branded by recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing, which vary in severity and frequency from person to person.


According to him, during an asthma attack, the lining of the bronchial tubes swells, causing the airways to narrow and reducing the flow of air into and out of the lungs. He noted that this can be worsened by the  dusty environment which comes with harmattan, adding that cold is also one of the triggers of asthma hence the need for the children to be kept warm with extra clothing and sweaters.


He said: “For asthmatic patients, the dusty winds of harmattan can trigger attacks. This is why they should stay away from dusty areas and have their inhalers on them at all times. “Wearing of a nose or face mask is advisable during this period when one has to be in contact with a dusty environment. The weather is very dusty now, don’t allow your child to play where dust will be raised.


“Asthmatic person must avoid areas where people smoke or burn bushes. Use tiles in the rooms instead of carpets and rugs that harbour dust and wet the floors before sweeping to prevent rising dust.


“Also, avoid cleaning chemicals, soaps and perfumes with very strong odour that can trigger asthma. If your child is asthmatic visit the school to make sure he/she sits far away from the chalk board. Chalk dust can also trigger asthma “Use allergy proof covers on pillows and beddings. Be sure to wash beddings in hot water above 130 degrees Fahrenheit to remove dust mites. Use a dehumidifier to remove excess moisture and.”


He added that there’s nothing worse than an empty inhaler canister during an asthma attack, urging the parents/guardians to always ensure that their children have extra asthma inhalers at home and in school. Meanwhile, a stylist and hairdresser, Lady Cyndi Ilomunya said harmattan affects women’s hair in two ways, both positively and adversely. According to her, during the harmattan, there are some hairstyles that are weatherfriendly, especially braiding and fixing, saying that the harmattan season is not the time for wearing natural hair. She said: “Natural hairs during this season suffer tip breakage. If you try to comb your hair, you will see that the tips of the hairs will be cut off and to prevent this, you have to braid your hair or go for another suitable hair do. “For Nigerian females who mostly have some kind of hair, harmattan can cause serious problems to the hair. It can cause dry tips and hair breakage. The person needs to wear a hairstyle that keeps your hair ends hidden and ensures she applies hair cream.” According to Olaoluwa Oloyede, another hairstylist, harmattan is not the time to manipulate one’s hair excessively. She said: “You will say, ‘But I want to do 1 million braids for Christmas,’ ‘I want tiny Ghana-weaving,’ ‘I want to make three different styles before the New Year.’ I understand, but the health of your hair should not be compromised. “You can do hairstyles that do not require too much manipulation like normal or chunky braids and twist and weaves among others.


You need to protect your hair with protective styles like box braids, Senegalese twists, wigs (my favorite), faux locs, etc. You can even add some spice to protective styling with turbans and head wraps.” However, for Tobi Salako, a Spa operator, this is the season SPA operators make more money.


“We make money during the harmattan due to the cracked feet, soles, lips and rough skins that come with the season. Customers pay money to clear them,” he said


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