Iraq’s first sandstorm of the year blankets Baghdad

A sandstorm covered central Iraq, including Baghdad, on Friday, the first such weather event to hit the arid country this year.

In 2022, there were more than a dozen sandstorms in Iraq, an unprecedented number attributed to deserts.

Iraqis who went out on Friday evening were greeted by the increasingly familiar ocher sky and unbreathable air typical of sandstorms, with AFP journalists reporting greatly reduced visibility and a film of dust covering cars and houses.

Driven by westerly winds, the storm moved from Al-Anbar province before reaching Baghdad and Salaheddin provinces by late Friday.

Local authorities were unable to provide figures on the number of people so far requiring medical treatment for respiratory problems related to the storm.

Orders were issued for “health facilities to be alert”, Health Minister Saleh al-Hasnawi said in a statement.

Transport ministry spokesman Maythem al-Safi told AFP that flights in and out of Iraq are “continuing normally”.

Last year’s sandstorms disrupted air traffic and often closed schools and offices. Thousands of people were admitted to hospital with respiratory problems.

The United Nations places Iraq among the five countries in the world most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The environment ministry has warned that the country can expect “272 dust days” per year, rising to more than 300 by 2050.

Amer al-Jabri, a spokesman for Iraq’s meteorological department, said the storms were caused by desertification caused by “droughts, lack of rain (and) drying up of rivers”.

In order to ease the process, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudan unveiled a campaign in mid-March to plant five million trees throughout Iraq.

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