Seven people were killed in eastern Syria, including two children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday. The strong winds uprooted trees and caused power outages in the province of Dair as-Saur.
In Iraq, renewed sandstorms caused breathing difficulties for hundreds of people. The Iraqi Ministry of Health said that 2,000 patients had been treated in hospitals.
Ambulances are deployed across the country to help people who are at risk of suffocation, the state agency INA reported. If necessary, patients would be revived on site in the sandstorm, it said. It was not known how many people were actually affected
Social media featured photos from Iraq of people, cars and houses under a thick, orange-red haze. INA showed rescuers giving oxygen to people on the street.
The view in Baghdad was sometimes very limited. Flights have been temporarily suspended at the airport in the southern city of Najaf. The government urged people to stay at home as much as possible and wear protective clothing and goggles when outside.
Sandstorms are not uncommon in Iraq. Especially in summer, there are strong north-west winds in the desert region, which blow over the floodplains of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. At the same time, the country is increasingly struggling with drought, last year it experienced one of the worst droughts in decades. In addition to climate change, a misguided water policy is to blame. The dust particles significantly worsen the air quality.
In similarly severe sandstorms, hospitals in Iraq registered more than 5,000 patients with breathing difficulties in the past few weeks, and at least one person died. Asthmatics and the elderly are particularly affected.
The storms should subside by Monday evening. Meteorologists are expecting more sandstorms in the coming months. The expert from a risk analysis company spoke on Twitter on Monday of “rapidly increasing environmental problems” in Iraq. “These sandstorms are a warning that goes well beyond its borders.”