An unseasonal sand and dust storm swept across the Mideast this week, blanketing Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Cyprus and causing the deaths of at least five people and sending hundreds of others to hospitals with breathing difficulties, officials said.
Images of the sandstorm were seen from NASA’s Aqua satellite. Dust first appeared in norther Syria on Sept. 6 and by Sept. 8, it had swept southwest over much of the Middle East, NASA said.
Environmental advisor Naji Kodeih warned on Wednesday that climate change is affecting the frequency and scale of sandstorms in the Middle East.
Speaking at the Climate Change Social Impacts on the MENA Region Conference, Kodeih said the latest sandstorm posed severe health risks to the local population as it contained ultra-fine particles that were “more likely to enter your bloodstream, carrying all the pollutants in the air”.
He recommended that people stay indoors, and wear masks soaked in water if they needed to venture outside.
Unseasonal dust storms blanket Middle EastAn unseasonal sand and dust storm swept across the Mideast this week, blanketing Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Cyprus and causing the deaths of at least five people and sending hundreds of others to hospitals with breathing difficulties, officials said.
Temperatures in Amman, Jordan rose to 39 degrees Celsius (102.2 degrees Fahrenheit) on Wednesday.
Egypt’s state news agency says authorities have closed four ports in the Suez governorate due to poor visibility from the sandstorm. The General Authority for Red Sea Ports said visibility in the area was reduced to less than 1,500 meters (just under 1 mile) Wednesday morning, Egypt’s state news agency MENA reported.
Reduced visibility also prompted the Syrian government to call off airstrikes against rebel fighters, local media reported, and threatened planned protests by Lebanese activists over the government’s inability to deal with the country’s rampant trash crisis.
Syria’s state-run news agency SANA said three people in the central Hama province died from the sandstorm, without elaborating, and said there were more than 3,500 cases of people with breathing difficulties across several provinces.
The sandstorm reached Beirut on Tuesday, a day after it engulfed eastern Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. People, especially those with health issues, were advised to stay indoors while many of those who ventured onto the streets donned surgical masks.
The Lebanese Health Ministry said 750 people suffered breathing problems across the country, and that two women died because of the sandstorm, without providing details. Two boats set adrift were rescued by coast guard, the National News Agency said. Airport officials reported some flight delays.
Lebanese authorities warned residents against burning trash that has piled up on Beirut streets this summer, sparking a political crisis and daily protests.
Lucien Bourjeili, one of the protest organizers, said the bad weather may prevent some people from taking to the streets in a major protest planned Wednesday, though “this movement doesn’t depend on the weather … or one day.”
In the Syrian capital, Damascus, the head of a major hospital, Adeeb Mahmoud, said over 1,200 people, including 100 children, had been treated for breathing problems since the night before.
“It is unbelievable. This must be some test,” said Mansour, a Damascus resident, who gave only his first name. “It’s hot. Temperatures are high and above that we have this dusty weather! It is something beyond reasonable. Enough please!”
The Syrian pro-government Al-Watan newspaper said the weather forced a halt in government airstrikes against rebel fighters north of the central province of Hama.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group, said hospitals in the town of al-Mayadeen in the northern province of Deir el-Zour ran out of oxygen cylinders and were unable to take in more patients.
Story compiled with information from the Associated Press and NASA.