Rising heat drives crippling sandstorms across the Middle East

(Reuters, 6 Jul 2022) Drought and changing weather patterns feed stronger, longer dust storms, causing damage that costs the region $13 billion a year.

Over the past two months, Iraqis have been living, working and breathing in thick clouds of dust, as at least nine sandstorms - lasting up to several days each - have hit the country, blanketing everything in grit.

Hospitals have reported a surge in admissions, with thousands of patients coming in with severe respiratory illnesses, while schools and offices have had to close and flights have been grounded for days at a time.

"I can't walk outside without coughing or covering my mouth," Azzam Alwash, founder of non-governmental green group Nature Iraq, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from his home in Baghdad.

The latest storm "kept me in the house for two days. I have asthma, so I have to stay inside to protect my lungs," he said.

Iraq, Iran, Syria and other Gulf states are no strangers to sand and dust storms (SDSs) which have historically occurred in the hot months from May to July when strong northwesterly winds carry large amounts of dust throughout parts of the region.

But these days the storms are coming earlier and more frequently, rising well above the once-normal once or twice a year, starting as early as March and spreading over a wider area.

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Reuters, 6 Jul 2022: Rising heat drives crippling sandstorms across the Middle East