Press Release

Combatting Transboundary Sand and Dust Storms in Southern Iraq and Kuwait

03 February 2023

Basra, Iraq, 28 January 2023 - UN-Habitat with partners has embarked on a new project on improving cities’ resilience against the impact of sand and dust storms. The project kick-off was celebrated in form of a workshop with over 50 participants, co-hosted by the Governorate of Basra and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development.

Iraq is counted among the 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change in the World today, and the climate crisis has become a reality, already. Severe heat, droughts and the proliferation of sand and dust storms have a significant impact not only on agriculture and food production, or on Iraq’s economy, but also impacts cities and urban residents directly. Sand and dust storms have become a public health issue in Kuwait and Iraq with increases in respiratory illnesses and even people dying because of these extreme weather events.

The economic burden is equally high: Estimates say that the impact on Kuwait’s economy, alone, exceeds 190 million USD per year, with impacts across the board, including aviation, the oil industry and all types of commercial activities that must be put on hold, while the dust cloud literally takes hostage of the entire country.

The project on Improved Resilience against Transboundary Sand and Dust Storms in Kuwait and Southern Iraq follows a three-pronged approach: It improves the knowledge base and the understanding of the conditions that create sand and dust storms, as well as their impact on human health, and the needed prevention and mitigation measures. Secondly, it makes a substantial effort to restoring ecosystems in the source areas of sand and dust storms. Thirdly and most importantly, it helps to enhance the resilience and capacity of local authorities, and of the most vulnerable communities in Southern Iraq, to adapt to the impact of desertification and to contribute to mitigating the root causes of sand and dust storms.

Dr. Rawia Mahmoud, Director General of the Department of Forestry and Desertification from the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture welcomed this timely project kick-off as “a very successful and important meeting for finding appropriate solutions and diagnosing the causes, including climate change, that is affecting Iraq and Kuwait.” She further added “We are fully prepared to cooperate in the implementation for the purpose of achieving the objectives of this pioneering and developmental project, which will reduce the risk of sand and dust storms and improve environmental conditions in both countries, Iraq and Kuwait.”

Dr. Mohammed Sadeqi from the Kuwait Fund underlined the importance of this project as the first of its kind and added: “The state of Kuwait is the main beneficiary of the projects in terms of health and economic implications caused by sand and dust storms. As this natural occurrence causes multiple health issues as well as takes a significant toll on the Kuwaiti economy due to its effect on the migration of sand dunes on roads, power plants and the oil refineries. The project is expected to significantly improve the living conditions in Kuwait and the region.”

Eng. Wa’El Ashhab, Head of UN-Habitat’s Country Programme in Iraq highlighted “the severe impact of climate change on Iraq and other countries in the region, where drought and water scarcity became a huge challenge to the Government and local authority, this important initiative came as a result of the generous contribution by the Kuwait Fund.” He added “UN-Habitat aims at brining on board other Gulf countries that are affected by sandstorms to expand on the coverage of this regional initiative to combat desertification and reduce the impact of this environmental phenomenon.”

Dr. Ameera Al-Hasan, Head of UN-Habitat’s Country Programme in Kuwait, and UN-Habitat’s representative with the Gulf Cooperation Council emphasized: “The workshop aimed to introduce the project stakeholders and partners to the scope of work and introduce its objectives, as well as to define the role of each entity within the project. This comes as a results of UN Habitat’s prioritization of the harmonization and alignment of efforts to ensure the synergy in implementation, as this project is considered the first of its kind in the Middle East. The project’s collaboration between multiple partners, all who believe in the importance of its proper implementation, ensures to optimize its results in the future, with regards to combatting the effects of climate change globally, as it impacts the inhabitants of urban and coastal cities alike with regards to economic and health implications.”

The project on Improved Resilience against Transboundary Sand and Dust Storms in Kuwait and Southern Iraq will be implemented over the next four years, and is fully funded by the Kuwait Fund with a total budget of 4 million Kuwaiti Dinar.

UN entities involved in this initiative

United Nations Human Settlements Programme

Goals we are supporting through this initiative