Monday July 04, 2022

Thousands hospitalised as sandstorm brings Iraq to standstill

May 17, 2022

BAGHDAD: Another sandstorm that descended on Monday on climate-stressed Iraq sent at least 4,000 people to hospital with breathing problems and led to the closure of airports, schools and public offices across the country.

It is the eighth dust storm since mid-April to hit Iraq, which has been battered by soil degradation, intense droughts and low rainfall linked to climate change. The last one earlier this month led to the death of one person, while more than 5,000 others had to be hospitalised for respiratory problems.

On Monday, a thick cloud of dust enveloped the capital Baghdad in an orange glow and blanketed many other cities including the Shiite shrine city of Najaf to the south, and Sulaimaniyah in the northern Kurdish autonomous region, AFP correspondents said.

Yellow and orange sand covered building roofs, cars and even crept into homes. Authorities in seven of Iraq’s 18 provinces, including Baghdad, ordered government offices to shut. But health facilities remained open to assist those most at risk, including the elderly and people suffering from chronic respiratory diseases and heart ailments.

At least 4,000 people were admitted to hospital needing treatment for respiratory difficulties, health ministry spokesman Seif al-Badr said, adding that all cases "received the necessary medical care".

AFP correspondents saw around 20 patients, most of them elderly men, at Baghdad’s Sheikh Zayed Hospital. One of them was Hadi Saada, 70, lying on his side on a bed in the intensive care unit hooked to a respirator. He struggled to breathe.

"It is his third time in hospital" since the sandstorms began in April, said his son Mohammed Saada, adding that his father had a heart condition. Another patient, Khaled Jassem, 70, was also hooked to an oxygen tank.

"We’ve been here since 8:00 am... My father has a heart ailment, diabetes, hypertension and is suffocating on the dust," said his son Walid Jassem. At least 75 people struggling to breathe were admitted on Monday to Sheikh Zayed, said Talib Abdelmoneim Nejm, one of the ICU officials.