January 30, 2023

Iraqis Choke Under a Blanket of Dust as Sandstorms Sweep the Country

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According to Iraqi state media, uncontrolled sandstorms in Iraq this year have disrupted flights, covered cities and towns with orange dust and sent hundreds of Iraqis to hospitals with respiratory problems.

For millions of people across Iraq on Thursday, the orange sky signaled another dusty day – the seventh sandstorm in recent months.

According to the Iraqi Ministry of Health, many Iraqis wore masks to help filter the air, but more than 5,000 people were treated for respiratory problems and one died.

The affected areas extend west of Anbar and central Najaf. Iraqi News Agency, And officials urged people to stay indoors and seek treatment for breathing difficulties. A video shared by the United Nations from Baghdad on Thursday shows empty streets and poor visibility.

Although it is difficult to directly link individual weather events to climate change, experts say it is a stimulus behind sandstorms that are increasing in frequency and intensification. And climate change could potentially complicate the challenges for a country like Iraq, which is already facing water shortages following low rainfall and rising temperatures.

Twenty years ago, Iraq could have expected about two sandstorms a year, said Jafar Jutri, a geologist at Al-Qudsia University. He said about 20 sandstorms are expected to hit Iraq this year.

According to the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority, visibility was so bad during this week’s sandstorm that flights from Baghdad and Najaf airports had to be grounded.

“This is a disaster,” said Professor Jutri, adding that sandstorms are becoming a regular feature of TV weather forecasts in Iraq. He said the increase in sandstorms could lead to respiratory problems, road accidents and changes in the economy – forcing people to consider moving away from the country’s dry west. Sandstorms are changing the Iraqi way of life.

He said the dust and sand that make up the storms are coming from far away in the deserts of Iraq, as well as in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. He added that mismanagement of surface water and groundwater in these areas, as well as farming in the deserts and obstruction of movement of people, have contributed to this problem.

The country needs to change the management of desert areas and agriculture to mitigate the effects of storms, said Professor Jutheri, adding that investing in more native plants and significantly reducing groundwater consumption. He added that buildings also need to be upgraded to withstand the effects of sandstorms.

Of The United Nations Environment Program said in 2016 Dust storms in the Middle East and North Africa are costing GDP more than $ 13 billion a year.

Jane Araf Cooperation reporting.

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