Residents in Bawku, Zebilla, others retire early at night as extreme cold, dry winds drive through the area

Residents in Bawku, Zebilla, others retire early at night as extreme cold, dry winds drive through the area
Source: JoyNews | Mahmud Mohammed-Nurudeen
Date: 11-01-2020 Time: 08:01:04:pm
Photo credit: Mahmud Mohammed-Nurudeen

Thirty-five-year-old, Baba Azumah woke up in the middle of the night only to feel the cold harmattan has ‘gripped’ his ribs, making breathing and comfortable sleep difficult.

He was in pain too and had to struggle and manage it throughout the night, his wife extremely apprehensive of the situation.

"My husband, what do we do now? I can see you are in pain,” the adorable Modesta Azure asked Baba. They were worried and could not understand why a night that is supposed to accord them good sleep, as a couple, rather impedes their seven-year-old betrothal.

Modesta stood, looked around and there was no intervention at that moment.

She was moody and helpless. She sounded "mad" and could not do anything to get her sweetheart freed from the clutches of the biting cold weather.

If there was a way Modesta could turn the night into day at any price, she would have opted for it. As the minutes went by, and the hours came, the day finally broke but Baba was still in captivity.

"It’s catarrh, it’s catarrh", Modesta uttered and gestured, as she looked into her husband's face in excitement.

"Don't worry. I know what to do" she assured the husband. 

I visited Baba last night for the first time in about a year. We had a long-winding conversation. We spoke about marriage and other memorable events back at Bawku Secondary School.

Harmattan in the North 2019
Photo credit: Mahmud Mohammed-Nurudeen

We talked about things we never took seriously, the days we poked fun at each other and even took to our heels because we were asked to write just one "rebellious" paper -Chemistry. 

Those days were dreadful. We remembered historic moments that made Bawku Secondary School a nice campus to live on.

The issue of the "Congo" bath came. It was such a bath recommended by students during those horrendous days of harmattan. You needed just to wipe your face, hands, and parts of your legs, with water, and you were ready for class.

What could have caused this catarrh on Mr Baba? The harmattan winds?

The wind is cold, dry and is a regular visitor in Ghana especially in Bawku and some other parts of the country.

Technically, it is known as the North-East Trade Winds which sweeps from North Africa down to sub-Saharan Africa. The wind is coming at very low temperatures which makes the weather very cold. It throws up a lot of dust and causes difficulty in breathing. 

The complication facing Baba is a replica of what is playing out in many homes in the town during this dry and dusty season. Well, the challenge isn't different at my end. ‘Mr’. Dry and Dusty visits me continuously since I left Kumasi for Bawku. 

Harmattan in the North 2019
Photo credit: Mahmud Mohammed-Nurudeen

I never invited him but it is an annual guest anyway, unfortunately, at the time of the year when I am always in Bawku. 

The dry and dusty season has already touched my life and I don't want to pay a bigger price in the coming days, so I am walking with my flask full of water and liquid soap. 

On January 2, 2019, major streets in Bawku were deserted as early as 8 p.m. due to cold temperatures. Those who were seen around were either in sweaters or sitting near a heating coal pot. 

Though Abdulah Mohammed was in long sleeve, he was seen close to a mound of fire two minutes' drive away from Bawku Prisons.

"The weather is cold, " he said.

The annual weather pattern is common from December to March, with blowing desert dust across Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire to the South, or West into the Cape Verde Islands. 

Harmattan in the North 2019
Photo credit: Mahmud Mohammed-Nurudeen

Climate Scientist and Senior lecturer at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Dr Paa Tettey Kow, said clouds of dust have a profound impact on climate systems.

"They constitute a significant proportion of aerosols. Aerosols alter the radiative, forcing of the climate change, with serious effects, " he stated.

The dust storms also can cause visibility issues and travel delays, and an increased risk of wildfires because of the dry and windy conditions.

On December 31, some rice farmers in Northern Ghana were taken by surprise when a bush fire ravaged hundreds of hectares of their crops. 

Over 400 hectares of rice farms along the Fumbisi-Gbedembilisi-Yagaba Rice Valleys were completely burned. 

Rice farmers who are still harvesting their rice during this dry season are compelled to compete for limited combine harvesters at exorbitant fees or risk losing their produce to bush fires. 

One of the farmers only harvested 15 acres out 52. The rest got burned because of the unavailability of combine harvesters.

"I lost between GHS25,000 and GHS7,000,” he lamented. 

Among more significant health concerns tied to harmattan season is meningitis, like much of sub-Saharan Africa lying in what epidemiologists and other public health officials call the “meningitis belt.”

About 450 million people who live in 26 countries are prone to deadly meningitis outbreaks, and past incidents have claimed tens of thousands of lives. 

In 2016,  an eight-year period study conducted in Niger demonstrated links between airborne dust, hot temperatures and outbreaks of bacterial meningitis.

Harmattan in the North 2019
Photo credit: Mahmud Mohammed-Nurudeen

University of Liverpool authors noted that the Sahel Region of West Africa has the highest number of bacterial meningitis cases in the world. 

Health officials say it is high time people in the northern part of the country took much interest in protecting themselves. 

Dust-related cases of disease during this time of the year are becoming topical issues.

It is estimated 2,000, 000 tons of dust is emitted into the atmosphere every year.

Much of this emission is said to have come from a natural part of the Earth’s cycles, while a significant amount is generated by human-induced factors.

Dr. Tettey Kow says public health implications of sand and dust storms, especially, where climates are changing means that better forecasting can help protect lives.