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Iraq: Sandstorm send 1,000 people to hospitals

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Iraq suspended public buildings and temporarily closed airports on Monday as another sandstorm blasted the country, the ninth since mid-April.

More than 1,000 individuals have been admitted to hospitals around the country due to respiratory difficulties, according to Seif al-Badr, a spokesman for the health ministry.

Flights were also stopped for the second time this month in Kuwait, as the area deals with the increasingly frequent weather phenomena.

The second strong sandstorm in less than a week hit Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh later that same day, cloaking prominent buildings like the Kingdom Centre in a grey haze.

According to AFP correspondents, the Iraqi capital Baghdad was engulfed in a massive dust cloud, which left the normally congested streets virtually vacant and bathed in strange orange light.

Sandstorm

Moreover, shepherds found themselves covered in sheets of ochre-colored dust south of the capital, near the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

Sandstorm

With the exception of health and security services, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi has ordered a halt to all work in state-run institutions, citing “unfavourable climatic conditions and the entrance of heavy sandstorms.”

Baghdad, Arbil, and Najaf international airports were all shut down until flights resumed in the capital and Arbil.

According to the state news agency INA, Arbil’s airport was closed again on Monday evening “due to thick dust.”

However, Iraq is one of the world’s top five countries most vulnerable to climate change and desertification.

Iraq may face 272 days of the sandstorm

Iraq could face an average of 272 days of sandstorms per year over the next two decades, rising to over 300 by 2050, according to the environment ministry.

Sandstorm

“These dust storms usually come in the summer, but not at the same rate as recently,” said Seif al-Hamza, a doctor at a Baghdad hospital, adding that cases of respiratory problems “have increased significantly compared to previous seasons”.

The last two sandstorms in Iraq hospitalized roughly 10,000 people with respiratory ailments and killed one person.

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