A recent study suggests that countries that routinely struggle with civil unrest and armed conflicts have low air pollution levels as nature has time to heal itself during large breaks in the economic activity.
A group of researchers from Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, found that to be true especially for Middle East countries that have been torn by local wars for years.
Researchers found that air pollution levels in Middles East dropped significantly since 2010, when the regional unrest started to lag economic growth. Study authors explained that the clean air is not the outcome of regional policies of cutting down greenhouse gas emissions. It is the byproduct of local wars that destabilized the regions and their economies.
The study was published Aug. 25 in the journal Science.
The research team focused on nitrogen dioxide levels when making their assumptions. Nitrogen dioxide is the result of burning fossil fuels and greatly influences ozone levels. Scientists said that between 2005 – 2010 the countries in the region saw their air pollution levels rise as their economies started to develop.
But in 2010, when instability caused by wars and other armed conflicts kicked in, air pollution started gradually to decrease. Researchers wrote in their paper that they were saddened to learn that cleaner air was linked to “humanitarian catastrophes.”
The research group used NASA’s Aura satellite to measure air pollution levels in the area. The satellite data clearly showed that clean air reflected the seriousness of the ground conflicts.
Researchers noted that every country in the Middle East has its own particular story to tell. In Iran, the 2010 economic sanctions stalled the country’s economic growth leading to a sharp decline in air pollution.
Moreover, Iraq began to have cleaner air in 2013 when ISIS extremists started attacking its cities and devastate its economy. In Egypt, air pollution began dropping four years ago when civil wars emerged.
In Syria, Aleppo and Damascus, two cities heavily devastated by armed conflict which forced tens of thousands to flee the region, saw their nitrogen dioxide levels drop by more than a half since the turmoil began.
Scientists hope that their finding may help government assess the seriousness of a crisis in a country by just monitoring air pollution levels in that region. This may come in handy especially in countries that lack freedom of press, or are isolated from the rest of the world.
Lead author of the study Jos Lelieveld argued that the recent findings do not suggest that war has a ‘silver lining;’ instead air pollution levels can only point out how badly devastated a region is by armed conflicts.
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