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

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.

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.

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.

Badr added that the majority had since been discharged and most cases were of “medium or low intensity”.

Source: National News Agency