Tehran, Iran – Cities across Iran, including the capital, Tehran, have been engulfed in thick layers of dust and pollutants said to be carried in by strong winds from the west.
The air quality was hazardous and visibility was very low throughout Friday and also on Saturday in Tehran as a white and grey fog enveloped the entire city.
Tehran was the most polluted city in the world on Friday, with a “very unhealthy” average real-time air quality index of 236, according to global air quality monitoring company IQAir.
The Swiss company’s index showed an “unhealthy” 183 by noon on Saturday, but local estimates on Friday at one point indicated an index of more than 500, the maximum level on the scale.
Municipality officials said old vehicles, factories and low-quality fuel were not the main cause this time as storms and strong winds are thought to have carried dust mainly from Iraq, spurred by climate change, droughts and desertification.
Iran’s Department of Environment said on Saturday that the pollution situation is expected to deteriorate by Saturday evening as more dust waves are pushed into Iran, some also from Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Dariush Golalizadeh, who heads the air and climate office of the department, told Tasnim news website that 26 provinces across the country have been dealing with some level of pollution caused by the dust carried in during the two days.
“Diplomacy is the main way of countering this phenomenon,” he said, adding that the department has called for meetings with neighbouring countries but has been turned down so far.
Government data indicate that Tehran only enjoyed two days of “clean” air during the entirety of the Iranian calendar year that ended on March 20.
Most days were classified as “acceptable” and 111 days were declared either unsafe for vulnerable groups or for all citizens.
Authorities largely refrain from shutting down the city that sees a population of about 12 million during the day when commuters also come in from nearby cities.
The municipality on Saturday refused to shut down the city and advised vulnerable groups to stay indoors.
Schools, which had fully reopened only last week after two years of COVID-19 closures, were also kept open, but students were advised to stay indoors.
President Ebrahim Raisi was forced to reschedule a meeting with a group of artists, while Tehran’s Persepolis FC had to postpone a football match at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium.