Iraq closes airports, public buildings due to heavy sandstorms
A giant dust cloud leaves Baghdad’s streets deserted
Air traffic was suspended in airports across Iraq as the ninth sandstorm since mid-April hit the country. International airports in Baghdad, Erbil and Najaf were affected.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi ordered all work to cease temporarily in public institutions, with the exception of health facilities and security agencies, according to AFP.
In a statement issued by the PM's office, "poor climatic conditions and the arrival of violent sandstorms" are said to blame for the shutdown.
Earlier this month another sandstorm sent nearly 1,000 Iraqis to hospital with respiratory problems.
The environment ministry warned that over the next two decades, Iraq could endure an average of 272 days of sandstorms per year, rising to above 300 by 2050. The country is currently ranked as one of the five most vulnerable nations to climate change and desertification.
Climate experts associate recent intensification of sandstorms in the Middle East with rising water scarcity, overuse of river water, more dams, overgrazing and deforestation.
Iraq's environment ministry says the issue could be addressed by increasing vegetation cover and planting trees that act as windbreaks.