Amid one of the largest dust storms in years, the sky in many parts of Iraq has turned orange with a thick layer of dust covering everything in its path.
During the past few weeks, Iraq has constantly been experiencing major dust storms in different regions of the country.
The bad news is that according to forecasters, the conditions may very well continue in the coming days.
In addition, the dust storm also caused an emergency shut down of several airports due to a lack of visibility. Flights serving in Baghdad and the Shiite holy city of Najaf were grounded for the same reason after the storm got wilder for some hours.
Some places in Iraq even recorded visibilities of less than 500 meters this Sunday. “Flights have been interrupted at the airports of Baghdad and Najaf due to the dust storm,” the spokesperson for the civil aviation authority, Jihad al-Diwan, said.
Thanks to the harsh air that the Iraqi people have been inhaling for days, dozens were hospitalized only this Sunday.
Only in the city of Najaf, hospitals received 63 people suffering from breathing problems caused by the dust storm. According to one health official in the city, however, most of the patients left the hospitals after receiving appropriate treatment.
Hospitals in the mostly desert province of Anbar in the west of Iraq also received 30 people with the same respiratory problems.
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Continued dust in Iraq, which has even spread to some neighboring countries, including Iran, has taken several Iraqi lives so far this year.
For example, a severe dust storm sweeping Iraq and the Kurdistan Region resulted in five deaths along with hundreds of hospitalizations in Erbil and Sulaimani last April.
“Five civilians have died of dust in Salahaddin province’s Tuz Khurmatu,” Sherwan Abdulrahim, the assistant director of Khurmatu hospital, said back then.
While sand and dust storms are not uncommon during the Iraqi spring, they are expected to become even more frequent “due to drought, desertification and declining rainfall”, said the director of Iraq’s meteorological office, Amer al-Jabri.
What does the future hold for Iraq?
Iraq is a mostly deserted country and for this reason, sandstorms are quite a common scene in this country. These storms are more frequent during the summer.
But Iraq is not the only country in the Middle East suffering from this problem. In other words, sandstorms have become increasingly common in the whole region.
Weather experts believe that this everyday-rising challenge is the result of a combination of climate change and mismanagement of land and water in such countries.
In 2016, The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) issued a report in which it predicted that by 2026, Iraq will have to grapple with well over 300 dust storms in a year.
In November last year, another report, this time from the World Bank, warned that this Middle Eastern desert country is in critical conditions regarding water resources.
The World Bank noted that Iraq could face a huge drop of more than 20% in its water resources by the end of 2050 due to climate change effects.
Also early this April, one of Iraq’s environment ministry officials, Issa Al-Fayad, said his country is very much at the risk of facing “272 days of dust” a year in the upcoming decades.
Constant dust storms, low precipitation percentage in many cities, and rising temperatures in recent years have made Iraq particularly vulnerable. Experts have warned that these climate-related challenges can even lead to economic problems and social unrest.