By Maria Famakinwa
The harmattan season usually occurs between the end of November and mid March. Over the period, dry dusty northeasterly trade winds blow from the Sahara desert over the West African subregion to the Atlantic Ocean. As the wind passes over the desert, it collects fine dust particles and causes low temperatures.
According to weather and climate.com, the climate of Nigeria is tropical; however, there are wide climatic variations in different regions of the country. Near the coast, temperatures rarely exceed 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit), but humidity is very high and nights are very hot. Inland, there are two different seasons.
There is a wet season from April to October, with lower temperatures and the wettest month being June. Also there is a dry season from November to March, with midday temperatures that rise above 38° Celsius (100° Fahrenheit) but relatively cool nights, dropping as low as 12° Celsius (54° Fahrenheit).
Findings revealed that during harmattan, humidity drops to as low as 15 percent, which can result in spontaneous nosebleeds for some people. Other health effects on humans may include conditions of the skin (dryness of the skin), dried or chapped lips, eyes, and respiratory disorders, including aggravation of asthma. Nigerians who spoke with The Hope noted that despite the advantages of the season, it also brings anxiety and fear.
A 78-year-old Akure based trader, Mr Tiamiyu Tayo, disclosed that he is always scared when approaching harmattan because of his arthritis pain. “Despite the fact that I am on medication, harmattan season usually affect my health. It makes it difficult for me to move about because I feel pain in my legs. It is not my season at all. Since I have no choice, I will try to cope.
“Most aged citizens like me have similar complaint. I see it as one of the challenges of old age. It is even better here, compared to European countries. What I will do is to increase my intake of hot water, as well as use hot water to bathe even in the afternoon, and make sure that I always put on my cardigan. However, I don’t see this year’s harmattan as being serious like previous years that by this time of the year the weather would have been very cold.”
Also, a serving Youth Corps member, Miss Uche Johnson, said that her health nature is against harmattan season and it already affecting her. She lamented that the season of harmattan takes a serious toll on her health as an asthmatic patient.
Her words: “Aside the fact that the season carries a lot of problems, it is majorly associated with airborne disease which open asthmatic patients like me to danger. What I do is to go about with my nose mask and inhaler to guide against any emergency. Other features of harmattan are cracked legs and lips, dry skin and fever which make many to come down with malaria. I can’t wait for the season to end.”
A salary earner, Mrs Olaitan Olajide, hinted that her fear about the harmattan is that it sets in dust and causes cough and catarrh which are very communicable. According to her, the reason for much dust during harmattan is that there are no good roads and some people do not do interlocks in their compounds.
The woman, however, said that the only good thing about the season is that it reminds her of the end of the year, claiming that aside that, it is not too friendly.
She said: “Anytime harmattan starts, it reminds one that the year is gradually coming to an end. This makes me happy. On the other hand, the season is not friendly to me, and some other people. It is synonymous with sickness and disease. One can be easily infected with cough and carrthar which will eventually lead to malaria. I often fall sick during the period but I pray that this year will be different. Accidents also occur during the period because of the cloudy early morning weather. According to reports, the season is also reputed for fire disasters occasioned by bush burning, which has wreaked havoc in some parts of the country. Harmattan breeze is harsh during the day and gives you blocked nose which denies one of good sleep at night. I just don’t like the season,” she maintained.
On how to survive the harmmatan season, a medical practitioner, Mrs Omowumi Abiodun, cautioned Nigerians against exposing their bodies to cold during harmmatan to prevent them from pneumonia and other complications associated with the season. She equally advised people to take more water, fruits and eat more vegetables.
She said: “People should protect their bodies against cold since a cold that gets worse can turn to pneumonia because the cold will irritate the lungs, creating an environment for germs to start an infection.
“It is also advisable for people to take more water during this season. As the weather gets drier, drinking enough water would help you stay hydrated and prevent you from falling sick. Adequate water consumption during this season also keeps your skin glowing.
“Aside drinking enough water, one can stay healthy during harmmatan by taking more fruits, vegetables and Vitamin C. Doing these will help boost your immune system to fight possible infections like cold and flu. It also nourishes the skin and helps to improve the healing of wounds. The summary is that we should eat balanced diet to stay healthy during the season.”
The medical practitioner, however, warned against the intake of alcohol or smoking to fight cold. She warned against taking alcohol to keep the body warm, adding that the ultimate effect of alcohol is hypothermia. “Initially, users of alcohol may feel warm but the long-term effect will badly affect the health. Taking alcohol triggers arrhythmias and depresses the myocardium, the result of which is heart failure. Another related social habit that increases during cold weather is smoking, again erroneously for the purpose of keeping warm. Cigarette smoking ultimately leads to heart failure,” she warned.