One person died and more than 5,000 were admitted to hospital suffering from breathing difficulties after Iraq was hit by the latest in a string of dust storms, the country’s Health Ministry said on Thursday.
“Baghdad has registered 2,000 cases [of people] with breathing problems and one death,” the ministry said in a statement carried by Iraq News Agency. The rest of the cases occurred in other provinces, it said.
This is the first death since the waves of dust storms started last month.
The ministry urged people with respiratory problems to stay indoors or wear masks if they go out.
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 which turned the sky orange.
The emergency room at Baghdad’s Yarmouk Hospital was packed with mostly elderly people complaining about breathing problems on Thursday.
“Whenever there is a sandstorm my father suffers from irritation, causing problems with breathing,” Ababs Hamza, standing by his 68-year old father who laid on the bed, putting on oxygen mask.
“If healthy people can't breathe, how can the children and elderly cope?" Mr Hamza said, adding that his father spends few hours each time enters the hospital before going back home.
It is the seventh dust storm to hit Iraq in the past month.
Storms hit areas in central Iraq on Sunday, reducing visibility and resulting in the suspension of flights at two of the country’s main airports.
Iraq's Meteorological Authority said the country was under a North African depression, known locally as “khamaseen”.
Earlier in the day, authorities in Al Anbar and Kirkuk provinces, north of the capital, urged people to stay indoors, said the official INA news agency.
Hospitals in Al Anbar province had received more than 700 patients with breathing difficulties, said health official Anas Qais, 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 said.
A country vulnerable to climate change
Iraq is particularly vulnerable to climate change, having already witnessed record low rainfall and high temperatures in the past few years.
Experts have said these factors threaten to bring social and economic disaster to the war-scarred country.
In November, the World Bank gave a warning that Iraq could suffer a 20 per cent drop in water resources by 2050 due to climate change.
Early last month, a government official said 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”.