Major dust storm has hit vast portions of Iraq, leading to poor visibility in Baghdad and Najaf airports where flights were suspended. Visibility in certain sections of Iraq was less than 500 meters on Saturday, April 30. Hundreds of people also required hospital treatment for respiratory illnesses from the dust storms. According to Iraq’s meteorological service, drought, desertification, and decreasing rainfall are expected to increase the number of dust storms in the country. Dust storms have become increasingly prevalent in the Middle East due to climate change and poor land and water management. The loss of green space in and around cities could potentially worsen the problem.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimated in 2016 that Iraq could have 300 dust episodes every year in the next ten years, up from roughly 120 presently. “One of the main sources of sand and dust storms is Iraq, where the flow of rivers has decreased because of a race in dam constructions in upstream countries,” explains World Meteorology Organisation meteorologist Enric Terradellas. Sand storms have always been a normal occurrence in the region’s deserts, but scientists believe that unsustainable mining, oil extraction, agriculture, and intense military conflicts are aggravating the situation. Sand and dust storms are increasingly occurring in new areas, such as Central Asia, according to meteorologists.