Over the past few years, Iraq has been through many sandstorms constantly increasing in intensity and frequency. In April 2022, the country recorded its ninth sandstorm in two months. An extreme weather situation that makes life even harder in a country that has experienced war and poverty. The government has not been taking proper measures for years to prevent his country and the Iraqi people from suffering from such conditions. The most recent sandstorms in Iraq touched six of 18 provinces, including the capital Baghdad. Living under a thick layer of dust has many consequences on people’s health, agriculture as well as the economic situation of the country.
Effects on Health
Health complications are among the most problematic effects of sandstorms in Iraq. While exposed to constant dust in their environment, the Iraqi people see their respiratory health seriously affected. The last sandstorm led to one death and 5,000 people hospitalized following respiratory complications. The high risk of suffering from breathing difficulties led the government to close schools and official institutions. The most affected groups are children and the elderly.
According to the WMO, exposure to dust particles during sandstorms can lead to diseases such as asthma or pneumonia but can also lead to cardiac issues. Moving in the air dust facilitates the transportation and thus the transmission of viruses and other bacteria. Hence, besides the effects the sandstorms have already on Iraq, some health consequences can develop and become problematic with time in a country with financial difficulties.
Effects on the Economy
Sandstorms in Iraq have also a terrible impact on the country’s economy. Among the most affected sectors is the agriculture sector. Previously one of the most prolific sectors of the country, living from agriculture became very difficult for farmers today. In fact, the extreme heat, lack of water and dust brought by repetitive sandstorms have ruined many of the crops strongly affecting the revenues of the farmers who are already struggling to make the ends meet.
This exceptional weather is also affecting merchants. However, for them to survive, they have to open their shops amidst the sandstorm, despite the government suspending working hours for everyone besides the medical field. Some of the merchants saw their sales decreasing given that the thick layer of dust wrapping the city discouraged people to go shopping outside. On another note, three of the Iraqi airports closed for several days due to the lack of visibility the sandstorm caused.
Facing Environmental Challenges
It is worth mentioning that despite the limited means and capacities of the Iraqi state and despite the COVID-19 outbreak and all the difficulties it brought to the health sector, the victims of respiratory diseases always had access to oxygen and proper medication. The government ensured that hospitals have abundant oxygen reserves in most affected regions. Ambulances were also positioned on all the streets to respond to any emergency.
Although being prepared to face medical emergencies is essential during these extreme conditions, thinking of how to prevent Iraq from facing sandstorms again in the future is essential. The ministry of agriculture announced a project supported by the European Union to improve agriculture and create new jobs. More than just opening new jobs, this project is a good start to preventing future sandstorms in Iraq, given that the increase of green areas decreases the frequency and intensity of sandstorms.
Sandstorms in Iraq are becoming a major problem the country must deal with, in addition to all the challenges it must face in terms of the poverty of its population. However, the Iraqi people are resilient and do everything to keep life going despite this extreme weather situation. Even the government is taking small steps to protect its people and their future.
– Youssef Yazbek