People, Environment

UN: Sandstorms From Syria, Iraq Intimidate Iran, Kuwait

UN: Sandstorms From Syria, Iraq Intimidate Iran, KuwaitUN: Sandstorms From Syria, Iraq Intimidate Iran, Kuwait

The Middle East has been the worst hit by significant rise in sand and dust storms, with major impacts on human health, United Nations scientists say.

Iran and Kuwait are the most affected countries, largely because of sand and dust blowing in from Syria and Iraq.

Mismanagement of land and water amid conflicts in the region has been a key factor, as well as climate change. Sand and dust storms not only adversely affect public health, but also undermine the region’s economies.

Meteorologists say sand and dust storms are also happening in new places like some parts of Central Asia.

“In the Middle East, there has been a significant increase in the frequency and intensity of sand and dust storms in the past 15 years or so,” said Enric Terradellas, a meteorologist with the World Meteorology Organization’s Sand and Dust Storm Prediction Center for the region.

“One of the main sources of sand and dust storms is Iraq, where the flow of rivers has decreased because of a race for dam constructions in upstream countries. That has led to the disappearance of marshes and drying up of lakes both in Iraq and Iran, and the sediments left behind are very important sources of dust in the region.”

Deserts have always been the source of sand storms in the region, but scientists say unsustainable mining, oil extraction and agriculture as well as intensive military conflicts are worsening the situation.

The United Nations Environment Programme has predicted that Iraq could witness 300 dust events in a year within 10 years, up from around 120 per year now.

  Health Toll

“The air is so polluted here and I have developed breathing problem,” Jasem, a businessman in Ahvaz in southwest Iran, told the BBC, coughing over the phone.

“Coughing is a usual thing for me now and we need to keep the windows closed and use the air-conditioner all the time.”

Scientists said data from Syria were not easily available, but that there were enough grounds to believe that it is another major source of sand and dust.

“People aren’t tending the land in agricultural areas appropriately, which means planting crops and tending them in a way that is sustainable, because they are off either being refugees or involved in the fighting,” said Nick Middleton of St Anne’s College, Oxford, one of the reviewers of the UN study.

“So the former agricultural areas, I suspect, are more active as wind erosion sources now.”

The WHO has said dust storms contribute to poor air quality that is blamed for the death of 7 million people every year.