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Iran, regional nations sign accord to tackle sand storms

by Staff Writers
Tehran (AFP) Sept 30, 2010
Iran, Iraq, Syria, Qatar and Turkey have inked an accord in Tehran aimed at tackling the problem of sand storms within the next five years, local media reported on Thursday.

The agreement was reached at an environmental conference on Wednesday during which officials agreed to establish a network of meteorological stations, regenerate vegetation to stabilise soil and exchange expertise in these areas.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meeting with some of the officials, hailed the agreement on Wednesday.

"Surely, in the near future we will witness other regional nations joining this cooperation to tackle soil erosion, air pollution and desertification," he was quoted by the presidency website as saying.

Sand storms originating in Iraq are mostly blamed on two decades of on-and-off wars, with officials there saying the number of palm trees drop by two-thirds, from around 36 million to just 12 million.

Environmental issues there risk being left behind as other pressing challenges such as formation of a new government and reconstruction or establishing sustainable security take the fore.

According to Iraqi authorities, desertification of the country and severe drought which has persisted for recent years has raised the risk of sand storms, which affect the entire region.

In February 2009, a sand storm in Iraq forced Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to abort a trip to Baghdad.

In the past two years, Iran's western provinces have been the scene of severe sand storms emanating from neighbouring Iraq, and even Syria.

In 2008, even Tehran, some 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) east of Iraq, was hit by a sand storm, leading officials to issue environmental warnings for those suffering from respiratory problems and shutting some government offices.

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