Duststorms have increased dramatically in frequency in Iraq in recent years, driven by soil degradation and intense droughts made worse by the climate crisis, with rising average temperatures and sharply lower rainfall.

In early April, a government official warned Iraq could face
In early April, a government official warned Iraq could face "272 days of dust" a year in coming decades. (AFP)

One person has died in Iraq and more than 5,000 were treated in hospitals for respiratory ailments due to a sandstorm, the seventh in a month.

Residents of six of Iraq's 18 provinces, including Baghdad and the vast western region of Al Anbar, awoke once again to a thick cloud of dust blanketing the sky on Thursday.

As the storm swept across Iraq, it shrouded the capital Baghdad and the holy city of Najaf in ghostly orange clouds of choking dust.

"One death has been recorded in Baghdad" and hospitals "have received no less than 5,000 cases so far," health ministry spokesman Seif al Badr said in a statement.

Those hit hardest are people suffering from "chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma", and the elderly who suffer in particular from heart ailments, he said.

Authorities in Al Anbar and Kirkuk provinces, north of the capital, urged people "not to leave their homes", said the official INA news agency.

'272 days of dust'

In November, the World Bank warned Iraq - a country of 41 million people - could suffer a 20-percent drop in water resources by 2050 due to climate change.

The United Nations says about one-third of Iraq's population now lives in poverty.

In early April, a government official warned Iraq could face "272 days of dust" a year in coming decades.

The environment ministry said the weather phenomenon could be addressed by "increasing vegetation cover and creating forests that act as windbreaks".

READ MORE: 99 percent of world's population breathes poor-quality air: WHO

Growing threat of dust and sandstorms

Duststorms have increased dramatically in frequency in Iraq in recent years, driven by soil degradation and intense droughts made worse by climate change, with rising average temperatures and sharply lower rainfall.

Dust and sandstorms have always occurred in the Middle East but grown more frequent and intense in recent years, a trend that has been associated with overuse of river water, more dams, overgrazing and deforestation.

The fine dust particles can cause health problems such as asthma and cardiovascular ailments, and also spread bacteria and viruses as well as pesticides and other toxins.

The storms are expected to grow more intense with worsening climate change because higher temperatures and more irregular rainfalls dry out land faster and accelerate desertification.

Sandstorms also cause economic damage by reducing visibility, sometimes to near zero, shuttering airports and highways and causing damage to buildings, vegetation and solar panels.

READ MORE: WHO blames air pollution for 7 million premature deaths a year

Source: TRTWorld and agencies