Iraq sandstorm disrupts schools and flights

STORY: An orange haze clouded the streets of Baghdad on Monday, the result of a sandstorm that shut down schools and offices.

Visibility in the capital and southern Iraqi cities was down to just a few hundred feet, the byproduct of what residents say is an unprecedented number of sandstorms in recent weeks.

Ahmed Zaman is a taxi driver in the capital:

"These storms have become monthly, every three or four days they come back, it's due to climate change and the lack of rain, when people feel suffocated, there is no oxygen and they have to go get oxygen."

Rows of seats and luggage belts were empty in the Najaf airport.

In the capital, the airport said it was closing its airspace and halting flights due to low visibility.

Authorities in Baghdad, including the education ministry, declared a day off for local government institutions, with the exception of health services.

Hundreds of people across the capital and southern cities went to hospitals with breathing difficulties, medical officials said.

Ihsan Mawlood is an accident and emergency doctor:

"We have been in a state of complete readiness the past month, we've received patients with suffocation from the sandstorms. Admission is open for everyone and whoever comes is admitted to hospital and receives the treatment needed until they have recovered and c an be released to go home. All the means are available, machines and oxygen."

Recently, Iraq has been having at least one sandstorm a week.

It's the fifth most vulnerable country in the world to the climate crisis, according to the United Nations.