“To make your dreams come true, the first thing to do is to wake up from that sleep.”

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This piece aims at elucidating and recapitulating the term Harmattan,
its causes, its benefits to man and his environment, and ways to prevent its harsh effects.
Hence, it brings to bear the necessary precautionary measures
ought to be taken in order not to be a victim to the harsh effects of the Harmattan season

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The Harmattan is a season in the West African subcontinent, which occurs between the end of November and the middle of March. It is characterized by dry and dusty northeasterly trade wind, which blows from the Sahara Desert over West Africa into the Gulf of Guinea. It is cold in most places, but can be hot in some places, depending on the circumstances. The Harmattan blows during the dry season, which occurs during the lowest-sun months, when the subtropical ridge of high pressure stays over the central Sahara Desert and when the low-pressure Inter-tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) stays over the Gulf of Guinea. On its passage over the Sahara, it picks up fine dust and sand particles (between 0.5 and 10 microns).

The Harmattan season differs from winter, because it is characterized by cold, dry, dust-laden wind, and also wide fluctuations in the ambient temperatures of the day and night. 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 10%. The Harmattan brings desert-like weather conditions: it lowers the humidity, dissipates cloud cover, prevents rainfall formation and sometimes creates big clouds of dust which can result in dust storms or sandstorms. The wind can increase fire risk and cause severe crop damage. The interaction of the Harmattan with monsoon winds can cause tornadoes.

THE EFFECTS OF HARMATTAN
I would say that Harmattan has ambivalent effects both on man and his environment. This is an implication that it has both negative and positive effects.

The harsh effects of Harmattan and their respective solutions include:
In the first place, the eyes are directly exposed to the harsh weather especially the dust particles carried by the wind. Thus itching, foreign body sensation and redness may be common especially in individuals with allergic eye disease. Proper eye hygiene in form of washing with clean water, reduce exposure to dust and protective spectacles, are encouraged.
The respiratory system, because of its direct communication with the atmosphere, is heavily and badly affected. The respiratory tract has got a defensive mechanism that stops harmful particles in the air from getting to the lungs. This defense may however be overwhelmed by the concentration of the pollutants in the atmosphere, depending on the health status of the person or owing to small sized particles that escape entrapment. The resultant effect is damage to the system predisposing to infection.
Excessive sneezing, cough and catarrh are some of the symptoms common to most people. The Harmattan period is not the best of weathers for people with pre-existing chronic chest infection. Worthy of mention is Asthma, a chronic (long-term) disease that makes it hard to breathe due inflammatory congestion in the lower respiratory tract. These groups of patients should pay special attention to their health, taking all possible and practicable measures to reduce exposure to the dusty atmosphere in addition to having their inhaler with them all the time. It is noteworthy that the epidemic of meningococcal meningitis usually experience between February and May in the ‘meningitis belt’, northern Nigeria inclusive, is an aftermath of Harmattan.

Furthermore, the dry, cold and dusty wind associated with Harmattan also triggers sickle cell crises in affected individuals. Sickle cell anaemia to recall is a genetic disease in which the red blood cells become sickle under a condition of low oxygen tension leading to blockage of small blood vessels. The reduced blood supply to the tissues results in pain especially from the bones. The blood oxygen is usually reduced in extremes of temperatures, cold in this case. ‘Sicklers’ as patients are often referred to, should be vigilant and keep warm as much as possible to prevent crises. Because of the dusty atmosphere, there is need to imbibe healthy food preservation culture especially food hawkers such as fruits and soya sellers to prevent food borne diseases. Fruits and vegetables should be properly washed before eating. Our drinking water containers should also be properly covered.
Again, harmattan results into hazy atmosphere thereby limiting visibility for pilots of airplane. In some countries in West Africa, the heavy amount of dust in the air can severely limit visibility and block the sun for several days. This effect is known as the Harmattan haze. Record has it that it costs airlines millions of dollars in cancelled and diverted flights each year. When the haze is weak, the skies are clear.
Finally, people tend to suffer dehydration as well as weight loss in this season of harmattan. It is obvious that during harmattan, some people reduce in their sizes such that, one whose cloth is usually during the rainy season might see that cloth loose during the harmattan season.

The positive effects of the harmattan season:
Some see the weather at this period as the best weather. One once said that he likes the harmattan season because even if he doesn’t take his bath for a whole day, that no one would know since the dry weather doesn’t give room to sweating and consequently one won’t produce bad odor.
Most importantly, the harmattan is known as the farmers’ best season. In the first place, it helps in the preservation of farm produce. Hence, there is a local belief among local farmers that whenever there is heavy harmattan, it is an indicator of a good farming season. This is because all the leaves that the harmattan winds blow down simply compost and fertilize the farmlands. How nice is that!
It is also the favourable period for those in the rural areas who wish to mold the mud bricks for building their houses. This is because, if the bricks are been molded during the rainy season, the rain would probably destroy them. The dry winds of the harmattan season make the mud bricks more strong and durable.
Finally, in all, we all love the harmattan season. It is almost an integral part of the festive season. And what’s more…everyone is able to cover up and have wonderful sleeps in the night during the harmattan season.

SOLUTIONS TO THE CHRONIC EFFECTS OF HARMATTAN
The Harmattan is a natural hazard that we have to contain with. That notwithstanding, man’s alteration of his natural environment, help fuel these natural hazards with attendant health consequences.
In the first place, desert encroachment by human activities in form of deforestation must be discouraged by the relevant authorities. It is not enough to observe ceremonial tree planting campaigns yearly without devising a means of nurturing them. Alternative means of fuel such as coal would go a long way in reducing the societal demand for fire wood for cooking. Environmental sanitation and enacting and enforcing laws to regulate environmental pollution from industrial bye products are all measures that will minimize the adverse health effect of this natural hazard.
Another technique that can be employed to combat these cankerwormic effects of the harmattan season is the need to always dust our rooms with all the tables and seats in them with damp rags. The windows are not left out of the cleaning. This is to enable us avoid contacting any of the aforementioned illness that can be gotten from dust. It also implies that while sweeping our surroundings, we are expected to sprinkle water on the ground in order to keep down the dust.
Finally, it is wise that we avoid bush burning during this season. It is a fact that this is dry season, and in most places, the vegetation is no longer fresh as it was during the rainy season. As such, the bushes are prone burning easily once it is ignited. Thus, farmers as well as hunters should guard against this because it can become uncontrollable to the perpetrator of the act.

CONCLUSION
I now wish to at this point emphasize the obvious fact that during the harmattan season, people witness cracking of the lips, the heels and other parts of the body. We are all encouraged to take good care of these parts of our body to avoid serious wounds on our lips, heels and other parts of our body. Guard seriously against the menace of harmattan by taking the necessary precationary measures of which I enlsited some of them. Most importantly, I encourage everyone provide oneself with wet lips to avoid ones lips cracking. the use of balms in the nostrils is still not out of place for this will help the nose not to get dried and perhaps leading to nose bleeding.

And so, as Franklin Roosevelt would say that “when you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on,” I tie mine by reminding you all that a stich in time saves nine. Take good care of your health now as I wish you all the best in this yuletide. I hang on to this aforementioned statement – memento: HEALTH IS WEALTH !!!

Remain Blessed
BY
GABRIEL CHIKWENDU NWOFOKE