A large area of North Africa has been affected by a drought which began in the late 1960s and which has resulted in widespread crop failures, starvation and death. At the same time, there has been a great increase in the concentration of mineral aerosol in the trade winds over the western North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean, especially in the early 1970s and again in the early 1980s, when the drought was most severe. Concentrations in 1983 and 1984 were unprecedented and exceeded pre-drought means by a factor of four. Here we show that spring-summer dust concentrations at Barbados (13° 10'N, 50°30' W) are correlated to rainfall deficits in the sub-Sahara. Winter dust concentrations, which are normally at a seasonal low, also increased during the drought; concentrations in 1982-1983 were ten times greater than predrought values, and appeared to be related to large-scale circulation changes associated with El Ni~o rather than to the drought itself.