By Wassim Bassem for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
On Nov. 3, NASA published clear images taken by its satellites of the severe dust storm that hit Iraq recently. The climate changes sweeping Iraq are causing human casualties and economic damages. Hundreds of cases of suffocation were recorded.
The Ministry of Health announced Oct. 30 that there were more than 4,200 cases of suffocation in most governorates, including 528 in Karbala. During the dust storm, the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority canceled its flights, and Iranian flights to Baghdad and Najaf airports were also canceled. Ninevah province recorded 1,108 cases of suffocation in the camps for internally displaced persons.
The storms also affected the course of the battles between the Iraqi forces and the Islamic State (IS). On Oct. 31, the Iraqi forces were forced to postpone the campaign aimed to retrieve the city of Qaim, west of Anbar, from IS because of the lack of visibility caused by the dust storms.
While dust storms are occurring in neighboring countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and even Iran, “Iraq is one of the most affected countries by the storm, at the level of its environment, individuals’ health and economy,” said Amer Habib of the Technical College Musayyib in Babil province and the director of a project on organic fertilizers in Babil.
“This is due to the fact that Iraq is a barren land where vegetation is scarce. Human activities have swept away orchards and agricultural lands, which also led to the decrease of the rivers’ water levels and the lack of rainfall, which resulted in the drying up of huge areas of agricultural spaces.”
In 2011, the World Meteorological Organization identified dust storms as a natural disaster. Several countries around the world have strengthened their defense strategies against this environmental threat with green belts of trees that are resistant to drought and harsh environments. The stakeholders, especially local governments in Iraq, have been following the same approach for years and have developed projects to help eliminate desertification.
The rising level of dust pollution in Iraq forced Iranian airlines to cancel their flights to the Arab country’s cities of Baghdad and Najaf ahead of Arbaeen, the 40th day after the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (AS), the third Shiite Imam.
With dust clouds reducing visibility, Iranian flights heading to Baghdad and Najaf were grounded or delayed for a second straight day on Tuesday, Iranian media reported.
Officials at Imam Khomeini International Airport said the pilgrims traveling to Iraq for Arbaeen were required to call “199” and get the necessary information before heading to the airport.
Authorities at Najaf and Baghdad airports have also canceled all the flights because of the wind-blown dust caused by sandstorms in the Arab country.
A large group of Iranian pilgrims, wearing face masks, are stranded in airports and at Iran-Iraq joint border crossings.
Each year, a huge crowd of Shiite Muslims attend the religious commemoration of Arbaeen, by marching toward the holy city of Karbala, Iraq, which hosts the holy shrine of Imam Hussein (AS).
During the Arbaeen event, volunteers set up thousands of congregation halls and pavilions in Najaf and Karbala and along the road between them to offer services for the travelers and pilgrims.
(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)
By John Lee.
The head of Iran’s Department of the Environment, Masoumeh Ebtekar, and Iraq’s Minister of the Environment, Ibrahim Turki al-Juburi (Qutaiba al-Jibouri), have met to search for solutions to the environmental issues affecting the countries.
According to the report from BasNews, the Ministers discussed the dust storms that blanket the region, particulate pollution, and the associated health problems they cause.
They called on the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program, Achim Steiner, to establish a permanent fund to address these twin concerns, and agreed to greater collaboration to tackle the issues.
Al-Juburi asked for the creation of specialist workshops where Iran could educate Iraqi environmentalists.
Recognition was given to attempts to register the Hour-al Hawizeh Wetland as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the establishment of a green belt around Karbala, and a plan to clean up the Arvand river.
The meeting was concluded with a proposal to create a ‘Peace and Friendship Park’ on the Iraq – Iran border.