Iraq closed public buildings and temporarily closed airports on Monday as its ninth sandstorm since mid-April.
The health ministry said more than 1,000 people were hospitalized with respiratory problems. For the second time this month, flights have also been stopped in neighboring Kuwait. The second heavy sand storm in less than a week also hit Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh.
The Iraqi capital, Baghdad, was covered in a cloud of dust, the usually traffic-clogged streets were largely deserted and bathed in orange lights. To the south of the capital, near the Shia shrine city of Najaf, shepherds also found themselves covered in dust.
The Iraqi prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhemi, ordered the closure of all work in state-run institutions except for health and security services, citing “inclement climatic conditions and the arrival of violent sandstorms”.
Air traffic was suspended at international airports in Baghdad, Arbil and Najaf, before flights resumed in the capital and Arbil.
Later on Monday evening, Arbil’s airport was closed again “due to dense dust”, according to state news agency INA.
Iraq is ranked as one of the five most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change and desertification.
The environment ministry has warned that Iraq could endure an average of 272 days of sand storms over the next two decades, which will increase to more than 300 by 2050.
Iraq’s last two sand storms sent nearly 10,000 people to hospital with respiratory problems and killed one.
With the agency France-Presse