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At least one dead, 5,000 hospitalised with breathing difficulties as sandstorm sweeps across Iraq 

One person died in Iraq and more than 5,000 were treated in hospitals Thursday for respiratory problems due to a sandstorm, the seventh in a month, the health ministry said.

Residents of six of Iraq’s 18 provinces, including Baghdad and the vast western region of Al-Anbar, awoke once again to a thick cloud of dust blanketing the sky.

As the storm swept across Iraq, it shrouded the capital Baghdad and the holy city of Najaf in ghostly orange clouds of choking dust.

Duststorms have increased dramatically in frequency in Iraq in recent years, driven by soil degradation and intense droughts made worse by climate change, with rising average temperatures and sharply lower rainfall. 

‘One death has been recorded in Baghdad’ and hospitals ‘have received no less than 5,000 cases so far,’ health ministry spokesman Seif al-Badr said in a statement.

Those hit hardest are people suffering from ‘chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma’, and the elderly who suffer in particular from heart ailments, he said.

Above: An aerial picture shows a view of Iraq’s southern city of Nasiriyah during a heavy sandstorm. One person died in Iraq and more than 5,000 were treated in hospitals Thursday for respiratory problems due to a sandstorm, the seventh in a month

Above: A view of the dust covered sky during a sandstorm, in Baghdad. Duststorms have increased dramatically in frequency in Iraq in recent years, driven by soil degradation and intense droughts made worse by climate change, with rising average temperatures and sharply lower rainfall

Above: A view of the dust covered sky during a sandstorm, in Baghdad. Duststorms have increased dramatically in frequency in Iraq in recent years, driven by soil degradation and intense droughts made worse by climate change, with rising average temperatures and sharply lower rainfall

Above: Iraqi people receive oxygen support at a hospital during a sandstorm in Baghdad. 'One death has been recorded in Baghdad' and hospitals 'have received no less than 5,000 cases so far,' according to the Iraqi health ministry

Above: Iraqi people receive oxygen support at a hospital during a sandstorm in Baghdad. ‘One death has been recorded in Baghdad’ and hospitals ‘have received no less than 5,000 cases so far,’ according to the Iraqi health ministry

Above: Iraqis walk at the Imam Ali shrine during a sandstorm in Iraq's holy city of Najaf. As the storm swept across Iraq, it shrouded the capital Baghdad and the holy city of Najaf in ghostly orange clouds of choking dust

Above: Iraqis walk at the Imam Ali shrine during a sandstorm in Iraq’s holy city of Najaf. As the storm swept across Iraq, it shrouded the capital Baghdad and the holy city of Najaf in ghostly orange clouds of choking dust

Above: Vehicles drive along a street during a sandstorm in Baghdad. Dust and sandstorms have always occurred in the Middle East but grown more frequent and intense in recent years, a trend that has been associated with overuse of river water, more dams, overgrazing and deforestation

Above: Vehicles drive along a street during a sandstorm in Baghdad. Dust and sandstorms have always occurred in the Middle East but grown more frequent and intense in recent years, a trend that has been associated with overuse of river water, more dams, overgrazing and deforestation

Badr added that the majority had since been discharged and most cases were of ‘medium or low intensity’.

Dust and sandstorms have always occurred in the Middle East but grown more frequent and intense in recent years, a trend that has been associated with overuse of river water, more dams, overgrazing and deforestation.

The fine dust particles can cause health problems such as asthma and cardiovascular ailments, and also spread bacteria and viruses as well as pesticides and other toxins.

Authorities in Al-Anbar and Kirkuk provinces, north of the capital, urged people ‘not to leave their homes’, said the official INA news agency.

The storms are expected to grow more intense with worsening climate change because higher temperatures and more irregular rainfalls dry out land faster and accelerate desertification.

Sandstorms also cause economic damage by reducing visibility, sometimes to near zero, shuttering airports and highways and causing damage to buildings, vegetation and solar panels.

Health ministry spokesman Seif al-Badr added that the majority of the hospitalised had since been discharged and most cases were of ‘medium or low intensity’

Above: A man uses an oxygen mask at a hospital during a sandstorm in Baghdad. Hospitals in Al-Anbar province had received more than 700 patients with breathing difficulties, said Anas Qais, a health official cited by INA

Above: A man uses an oxygen mask at a hospital during a sandstorm in Baghdad. Hospitals in Al-Anbar province had received more than 700 patients with breathing difficulties, said Anas Qais, a health official cited by INA

Above: Iraqi people receive oxygen support at a hospital during a sandstorm in Baghdad. The central province of Salaheddin reported more than 300 cases, while Diwaniya and the province of Najaf, south of Baghdad, each recorded about 100 cases

Above: Iraqi people receive oxygen support at a hospital during a sandstorm in Baghdad. The central province of Salaheddin reported more than 300 cases, while Diwaniya and the province of Najaf, south of Baghdad, each recorded about 100 cases

A man crosses Al-Tahrir square during a sandstorm in Baghdad

A truck driving through a Spring sandstorm in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah

The storms are expected to grow more intense with worsening climate change because higher temperatures and more irregular rainfalls dry out land faster and accelerate desertification

 

Above: Iraqis visit the Imam Ali shrine during a sandstorm in Iraq's holy city of Najaf. Oil-rich Iraq, despite its mighty Tigris and Euphrates rivers, is classified as one of the world's five countries most vulnerable to climate change and desertification

Above: Iraqis visit the Imam Ali shrine during a sandstorm in Iraq’s holy city of Najaf. Oil-rich Iraq, despite its mighty Tigris and Euphrates rivers, is classified as one of the world’s five countries most vulnerable to climate change and desertification

Authorities in Al-Anbar and Kirkuk provinces, north of the capital, urged people 'not to leave their homes', said the official INA news agency

Authorities in Al-Anbar and Kirkuk provinces, north of the capital, urged people ‘not to leave their homes’, said the official INA news agency

Hospitals in Al-Anbar province had received more than 700 patients with breathing difficulties, said Anas Qais, a health official cited by INA.

The central province of Salaheddin reported more than 300 cases, while Diwaniya and the province of Najaf, south of Baghdad, each recorded about 100 cases, the news agency added.

Oil-rich Iraq, despite its mighty Tigris and Euphrates rivers, is classified as one of the world’s five countries most vulnerable to climate change and desertification.

Scientists say climate change amplifies droughts and that their intensity and frequency in turn threaten food security. Experts have said these factors threaten to bring social and economic disaster in the war-scarred country.

A traffic roundabout in Nasiriyah in the south of Iraq. Scientists say climate change amplifies droughts and that their intensity and frequency in turn threaten food security. Experts have said these factors threaten to bring social and economic disaster in the war-scarred country

A traffic roundabout in Nasiriyah in the south of Iraq. Scientists say climate change amplifies droughts and that their intensity and frequency in turn threaten food security. Experts have said these factors threaten to bring social and economic disaster in the war-scarred country

People walk through a sand storm in Baghdad. In November, the World Bank warned Iraq - a country of 41 million people - could suffer a 20-percent drop in water resources by 2050 due to climate change

Policeman stand during a sand storm in Baghdad. In early April, a government official warned Iraq could face '272 days of dust' a year in coming decades

People walk through a sand storm in Baghdad. In November, the World Bank warned Iraq – a country of 41 million people – could suffer a 20-percent drop in water resources by 2050 due to climate change

Above: A man walks through a sand storm in Baghdad. The United Nations says about one-third of Iraq's population now lives in poverty

Above: A man walks through a sand storm in Baghdad. The United Nations says about one-third of Iraq’s population now lives in poverty

Iraqis visit the Imam Ali shrine during a sandstorm in Iraq's holy city of Najaf. The environment ministry said the weather phenomenon could be addressed by 'increasing vegetation cover and creating forests that act as windbreaks'

Iraqis visit the Imam Ali shrine during a sandstorm in Iraq’s holy city of Najaf. The environment ministry said the weather phenomenon could be addressed by ‘increasing vegetation cover and creating forests that act as windbreaks’

In November, the World Bank warned Iraq – a country of 41 million people – could suffer a 20-percent drop in water resources by 2050 due to climate change.

The United Nations says about one-third of Iraq’s population now lives in poverty.

The effects of low rainfall have been exacerbated as the levels of the Tigris and Euphrates drop because of upstream dams in neighbouring Iran and Turkey.

In early April, a government official warned Iraq could face ‘272 days of dust’ a year in coming decades.

The environment ministry said the weather phenomenon could be addressed by ‘increasing vegetation cover and creating forests that act as windbreaks’.

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