Fears of the effects of desertification are growing in Iraq and other countries in the Middle East, where another sandstorm hit this week.
Monday’s storm, the 10th storm that swept Iraq in two months, hospitalized hundreds of people with respiratory problems. Authorities also urged workers to stay at home.
The warning comes after two previous sandstorms have killed one person in Iraq and transported about 10,000 people to hospital with difficulty breathing.
The dust turned the skies orange in neighboring countries, including Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, on Monday. As a result, Kuwait International Airport has suspended flights for the second time this month.
However, according to geological archaeologist Jafar Zoteri of Al-Qadisiya University in Baghdad, sandstorms appear to be more of a threat to Iraq than to neighboring countries.
Jotheri said the storms were very strong due to desertification and record low rainfall in Iraq, which has been designated by the UN as one of the five countries most vulnerable to climate change.
“It’s a regional problem, but each country has a different degree of vulnerability and weakness,” he said.
“In 17 years of poor management of water and urbanization, Iraq has lost more than two-thirds of its green cover,” he added. “This is why Iraqis complain more about sandstorms in the surrounding area than their neighbors.”
The Iraqi Ministry of Environment has warned that there could be more than 300 sandstorms per year by 2050 given the worsening situation.
Earlier this year, the department’s senior official Issa Al-Fayadh said the increase in storms was due to a decline in the country’s water resources. He added that up to 70% of the country’s farmland is at risk of desertification.
“Water scarcity continues to decrease Iraq’s green area due to climate change,” he said. “And delays in funding have led to delays in building the green belt in Iraq.”
His remarks come after the World Bank report was released in November, warning that a 20% cut in Iraq’s water supply could cut the country’s GDP by 4%.