People, Environment

More Dust Storms on the Way

More Dust Storms on the WayMore Dust Storms on the Way

The oil-rich Khuzestan Province in southwest Iran may have to prepare for more dust storms in the coming weeks.

Speaking to ISNA, Ziaeddin Shoaei, head of the Department of Environment’s task force to combat dust storms, said  “there is a high probability” that the province will experience severe storms due to winds blowing from Iraq and Saudi Arabia, where the main sources of dust storms in the Middle East are located.

“It’s too early to precisely predict the occurrence of these storms, but all signs point to massive storms brewing in neighboring Iraq and Saudi Arabia,” he said, pointing to the extremely low humidity in those countries as the main sign.

He said it is unlikely that Khuzestan will experience storms as big as the ones that crippled the province in February 2015, when persistent dust storms locked everyone indoors, crippling the entire oil province and filling emergency rooms with people complaining of breathing difficulties and other ailments.

“Khuzestan is more humid than last year, which helps reduce the impact of the storms,” Shoaei said.

Public offices and schools in the province were closed last Monday due to the dangerously high concentration of PM10 (particulate matter with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less) in the air.

Concentration of PM10 in the provincial capital Ahvaz reached 9,977 µg/m3 — 66 times the standard — last Saturday and over 5,000 µg/m3 in most other cities. The acceptable daily average for PM10 is 150 µg/m3.

Most of the sources of dust storms, which have become more frequent and intense recently, are located in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria, but domestic sources, including the desiccated wetlands such as Hoor al-Azim in Khuzestan and Hamouns in Sistan-Baluchestan, have made a bad situation worse.

Tehran has appealed for international help to tackle the problem that has imposed a high toll in human life and massive economic cost on the government, but only Iraq has shown some interest in working toward that goal. The Saudis have no diplomatic ties with Tehran and even when they had the House of Saud apparently had no interest in environmental cooperation.

According to Shoaei, about $1.45 billion is needed to address the dust storm problem in Iran, but the DOE neither has the financial resources nor the political clout to pull the strings and be able to battle the crippling storms that have affected more than two-thirds of the country.