Another sandstorm that hit Iraq on Monday sent at least 2,000 people with respiratory problems to hospitals and led to the closure of airports, schools and government offices across the country.

This is the eighth dust storm since mid-April to hit Iraq, which has suffered from soil degradation, severe drought and low rainfall due to climate change.

The latter earlier this month resulted in the death of one person, while 5,000 others were hospitalized due to breathing problems.

On Monday, a thick cloud of dust enveloped the capital Baghdad with an orange glow and enveloped many other cities, including the Shiite shrine of Najaf in the south and Sulaymaniyah in the northern Kurdish Autonomous Region, AFP correspondents reported.

Yellow and orange sand covered the roofs of buildings, cars and even crept into houses.

Authorities in seven of Iraq’s 18 provinces, including Baghdad, have ordered the closure of government offices.

But health facilities have remained open to helping those most at risk, including the elderly and people suffering from chronic respiratory and heart disease.

By noon, at least 2,000 people had been hospitalized across Iraq in need of oxygen, Health Ministry spokesman Saif al-Badr said.

AFP reporters saw about 20 patients, mostly elderly men, at Sheikh Zayed Hospital in Baghdad.

One of them was 70-year-old Hadi Saada, who was lying on his side on a bed in the intensive care unit connected to a respirator. He was breathing hard.

– “Panting from the dust” –

“This is his third time in hospital” since the sandstorms began in April, his son Mohammed Saada said, adding that his father had heart disease.

Another patient, 70-year-old Khaled Jassem, was also connected to the oxygen tank.

“We have been here since 8:00 am … My father has heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and he is choking on dust,” said his son Walid Jassem.

At least 75 people with shortness of breath were taken to Sheikh Zayed on Monday, said Talib Abdelmanheim Naim, an ICU official.

A sandstorm has sharply reduced visibility to 300 meters (yards) at Baghdad airport, forcing authorities to close airspace and suspend flights, the state news agency INA reported.

Airports in Najaf and Sulaymaniyah were also closed for the day, the agency said.

Schools across the country were also closed, and exams at the end of the year were postponed to Tuesday. Universities also delayed exams.

The last sandstorm is expected to gradually dissipate by Monday evening, weather services said.

Dust and sandstorms always occur in the Middle East, but in recent years they have become more frequent and intense.

The trend has been associated with excessive river water use, increased dams, overgrazing and deforestation.

Iraq is rich in oil and is known in Arabic as the country of two rivers – in connection with the legendary rivers Tigris and Euphrates.

But water supplies have been declining for years, and Iraq is classified as one of the five countries most vulnerable to climate change and desertification.

In April, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Environment warned that Iraq could face “272 days of dust” a year for the next two decades.

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