Visibility significantly dropped as the sky turned a mix of orange and red in the eastern provinces of Turkey late Sunday and on Monday due to lingering sandstorms from abroad. Dust hung heavily in the air over several provinces from Şırnak to Erzurum as Middle Eastern countries near Turkey's southeastern border grapple with sandstorms.
In Şırnak and Siirt, columns of dust hailing from Syria overshadowed daily life starting from late Sunday. In Şırnak, the Cudi and Gabar mountains overlooking the province almost disappeared as the dust settled. Though not as intense as it was in other countries gripped by the weather phenomenon, the dust blanketed every surface it could, with motorists experiencing particular trouble. In Siirt, authorities warned residents not to go out unless necessary as the dust also poses a public health risk, especially for people with chronic illnesses.
Since last month, Turkey has been affected by episodes of dust clouds hailing from North Africa, dealing a blow to air quality.
In Şanlıurfa, a province neighboring Syria, security forces stepped up patrols along the border as it almost disappeared amid the heavy dust, providing a veil to people trying to illegally cross into Turkey.
Along with the provinces on the border of Syria and Iraq, the dust moved further north of eastern Anatolia, reaching Erzurum, Tunceli and Kars, in the early hours of Monday. Air quality dramatically dropped in the cities while people struggled to stave off dust clouds by wearing masks.
On the other side of the border, Iraq closed public buildings and temporarily shut airports Monday as another sandstorm, the ninth since mid-April, hit the country, authorities said. The capital Baghdad was enveloped in a giant dust cloud that left usually traffic-choked streets largely deserted, an Agence France-Presse (AFP) correspondent said.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi ordered all work to cease in public institutions, with the exception of health facilities and security agencies. He cited "poor climatic conditions and the arrival of violent sandstorms" in a statement issued by his office.
Iraq is ranked as one of the five most vulnerable nations to climate change and desertification. The Environment Ministry has warned that over the next two decades, Iraq could endure an average of 272 days of sandstorms per year, rising to above 300 by 2050.
Air traffic was suspended Monday at international airports in Baghdad, Irbil and Najaf, according to statements issued by each airport, before authorities announced later in the morning that flights were resuming at Baghdad and Irbil. The previous two sandstorms killed one person and sent nearly 10,000 people to hospital with respiratory problems.
The Middle East has always been battered by sandstorms, but they have become more frequent and intense in recent years. The trend has been associated with rising heat and water scarcity, overuse of river water, more dams, overgrazing and deforestation.
Oil-rich Iraq is known in Arabic as the land of the two rivers, in reference to the Tigris and Euphrates. Iraq's Environment Ministry has said the weather phenomenon could be addressed by increasing vegetation cover and planting trees that act as windbreaks./AFP