Dust Storms Slam Khuzestan Again

The intensity of the storm, which blasted through Ahvaz at a speed of 66 km/h, damaged trees, some of which fell on electricity lines
Dust storms had reduced the field of vision in Ahvaz to a mere 50 meters. (File Photo)Dust storms had reduced the field of vision in Ahvaz to a mere 50 meters. (File Photo)
Concentration of PM10 in Ahvaz topped 10,000 micrograms per cubic meter

While northern Khuzestan Province was being showered by much-needed rain on Friday, most other parts of the oil-rich region were slammed by intense dust storms that disrupted flights and forced officials to cancel Friday prayers.

According to local officials, the concentration of PM10 (particulate matter with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less) in the provincial capital Ahvaz topped 10,000 micrograms per cubic meter—more than 66 times above the acceptable daily average of 150 µg/m3, Khouznews.ir reported.

However, PM10 levels were likely to be higher because the Department of Environment's sensors in the southwestern province cannot measure concentrations above 10,000 µg/m3.

"Our sensors were giving errors, which only happens when particulate matters exceed the 10,000 µg/m3 threshold," Shahriyar Askari, the head of Public Relations Office at the provincial DOE office, was quoted as saying.

Dust storms also engulfed nine other cities, namely Hendijan, Hamidieh, Karoun, Bavi, Susangerd, Abadan, Khorramshahr, Ramshir and Mahshahr.

The intensity of the storm, which blasted through Ahvaz at a speed of 66 km/h, damaged trees, some of which fell on electricity lines. As a result, some neighborhoods were left with no power for hours, IRNA reported. 

The thick plume of dust and sand forced officials to cancel 10 flights leaving Ahvaz Airport but everything was back to normal by the end of the day. 

The field of vision had been reduced to a mere 50 meters, according to Kourosh Bahadori, Khuzestan's chief meteorologist.

The severity and intensity of the phenomenon on Friday were reminiscent of dust storms in February 2015, which crippled the entire province for days, filling emergency rooms with young and old suffering from breathing difficulties.

  Government Priority

In response to Khuzestan's predicament, top environment official Massoumeh Ebtekar said in a statement on her personal Telegram channel: "Battling dust and sand storms is not the job of one person alone but the responsibility of various entities."

Ebtekar said curbing the impacts of dust storms has been a priority of the current administration ever since President Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013, though events out of Iran's control have made progress slow.

Experts are of the opinion that most of the sources of dust storms, which have become more frequent and intense recently, are located in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Domestic sources are said to contribute to only 20% of sand storms in the country. Due to Iraq’s struggle to combat the terrorism perpetrated by the self-styled Islamic State militant group, tackling environmental problems is not a priority of the Iraqi government. Furthermore, the water policies of regional countries—particularly Turkey—have compounded Iran’s struggle with dust and sandstorms, as Turkey's excessive dam construction has choked off water flow to Iraq and Syria.

A resolution proposed by Iran and backed by Pakistan and Iraq, which aims to enlist the assistance of Middle East countries to tackle dust storms in the region, was approved at the second UN Environment Assembly in May last year, helping bring international attention to a major regional environmental issue. 

A UN report in 2016 said the Middle East has been worst hit by the significant rise in sand and dust storms, with major impacts on human health, adding that Iran and Kuwait are the most affected countries, largely because of sand and dust blowing in from Syria and Iraq.

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