BAGHDAD – A sandstorm on Monday blanketed parts of the Middle East, including Iraq, Syria and Iran, sending people to hospitals and disrupting flights in some places.
From Riyadh to Tehran, bright orange skies and a thick blanket indicate another stormy day on Monday. Sandstorms are triggered by monsoon winds, usually in late spring and summer. But they have been happening in Iraq almost every week since March this year.
Iraqi authorities have declared the day a national holiday, urging government workers and residents to stay home in anticipation of the 10th storm to hit the country in the past two months. The health ministry has severely stockpiled oxygen canisters at facilities in the affected areas, a statement said.
The storm has sent thousands to hospitals, killing at least one in Iraq and three in eastern Syria.
“This is a region-wide problem, but each country has different levels of vulnerabilities and vulnerabilities,” said Zafar Jotheri, a geologist at Al-Qadisiyah University in Baghdad.
In Syria, the medical department has been warned that a sandstorm could hit the Iraqi border province of Deir El-Zour, Syrian state television reported. Earlier this month, a similar storm in the region killed at least three people and left hundreds more hospitalized with shortness of breath.
Dr. Bashar Shoaib, head of the health ministry’s office in Deir ez-Zor, told state TV that hospitals had been set up and ambulances were on standby. He said they have collected an additional 850 oxygen tanks and medicines needed to deal with asthma patients.
Heavy sandstorms have also hit parts of Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia this month.
For the second time this month, Kuwait International Airport suspended all flights on Monday due to dust. The video shows that the roads are empty with poor visibility.
The Saudi Meteorological Agency has said that visibility on the streets of the capital Riyadh will drop to zero this week. Officials have warned drivers to slow down. The city’s emergency rooms were flooded this month with 1,285 patients saying they could not breathe properly.
Iran closed schools and government offices in the capital, Tehran, last week due to a sandstorm. It hit the southwestern desert region of Khuzestan the hardest, where more than 800 people sought treatment for asthma. Dozens of flights from western Iran have been canceled or delayed.
Dust storms and heavy air pollution have been blamed, with a prominent environmental expert telling local media that climate change, drought and government mismanagement of water resources are responsible for the increase in sandstorms. Iran has drained its wetlands for agriculture – a common practice known for producing dust in the region.
Alireza Shariat, head of an association of Iranian water engineers, told Iran’s semi-official ILNA news agency last month that he hoped the massive dust storm would become an “annual spring event” that Iran had never seen before.
In Iraq, record-low rainfall has exacerbated desertification levels, increasing the intensity of storm surges, says geologist Jotheri. In a low-lying country with abundant deserts, the impact is almost double, he said.
“Due to 17 years of mismanagement of water and urbanization, Iraq has lost more than two-thirds of its green space,” he said. “So Iraqis are complaining more about sandstorms in their area than their neighbors.”
Isabel Dibre, Associated Press writer in Dubai, UAE, and Bassem Mro in Beirut have contributed.