Sand and Dust Storms Engulf Middle East

Sand and Dust Storms Engulf Middle East

Last month, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa -- the tallest building in the world -- vanished in the midst of an intense dust storm. Also in Iraq, sand and dust storms have occurred almost every week since March. Across the Middle East region, these storms are becoming increasingly intense as climate change continues, putting a pause on daily life and impacting economies. Basic infrastructure and services, from airports to schools, temporarily shut down during last month’s storms, stopping the movement of people, education, and flow of goods. These weather events also carry serious health impacts. At least 1,200 people were hospitalized in Saudi Arabia and over 5,000 in Iraq from storms earlier this year.

"Climate change causes the storms, and the storms exacerbate the impacts of climate change. Socio-economic life revolves around weather patterns, so livelihoods are severely threatened,” Banafsheh Keynoush wrote in an article covering the storms, published earlier this year.

WION: Iraqis wake up to a thick blanket of dust, 7 dust storms hit Iraq in 1 month, May 5, 2022.

Middle East Eye: The impact of climate change on the MENA region, December 31, 2021.

Strait Talk: Middle East Suffers Through Worst Drought in Decades, December 14, 2021.

Why This Matters

The increasing intensity of sand and dust storms causes a range of problems, including heightened health risks, as inhaling the small particles causes immediate breathing problems. They’re an economic concern, both for individuals unable to work in such conditions and for the broader network of international trade that passes through the Middle East. The World Bank estimates the storms lead to $13 billion in losses annually, taking into account earlier deaths and lower crop yields. In addition, the events exacerbate existing water scarcity issues, as droughts and low river levels continue; and armed groups like ISIS have started carrying out attacks under the cover of storms.

Carnegie Endowment: The Middle East's Climate Change Wake-Up, February 27, 2022.

Khaleej Times: Everything you need to know about the UAE sandstorm, May 18, 2022.

The Water Cycle

The intensifying sand and dust storms are connected to a combination of water-related issues that are, in turn, wrapped up in climate change impacts. Countries in the Middle East region have built dams to reroute water flow, which disturbs river ecosystems. Meanwhile, rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns have led to desertification across the region. Areas that used to be farmland are becoming less arable, with crops unable to survive. The Middle East already has 12 of the world’s 17 most water-stressed countries, with geopolitical implications over the increasingly scarce but essential resource.

Bedouin shepherds walk alongside their grazing flock in the al-Henniyah area outside of Najaf during a sandstorm sweeping Iraq on Monday. (Photo: Qassem / AFP - Getty Images)

National Geographic: Global Water Wars (Full Episode) | Parched, July 29, 2021.

BBC: Iraq's extreme heat and water shortages, October 24, 2021.