Political and economic crisis led to decrease in air pollution in Middle East

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Researchers at Max Planck Institute for Chemistry have found in a study of the Middle East that beyond the drastic impacts on society, Political and economic crises, and international conflicts have impact on pollutant emissions also.

Based on their analysis of nitrogen dioxide pollution in the atmosphere spanning 10 years based on satellite measurements, a team of researchers led by Jos Lelieveld, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry found that nitrogen oxide emissions declined in regions affected with armed conflict and upheaval, and also in areas affected by international sanctions. In contrast, pollution in countries that adopted many refugees rose significantly.

Scientists analyzed data that were measured by NASA’s Aura satellite since 2005 over several Mediterranean states and the Middle East and transmitted to earth every day.

The data show that nitrogen dioxide emissions increased considerably in almost all major cities in the Middle East from 2005 to 2010. Between 2010 and 2014, on the other hand, they dropped in many areas of Israel, Syria and Iran, in and around Cairo, Baghdad and Riyadh and also ports in the Persian Gulf, which are main terminals for oil export. In contrast, nitrogen dioxide concentrations rose steeply in Lebanon, parts of Iraq and Jordan during the same period.

“It is tragic that the negative trends we observe in nitrogen oxide emissions accompany humanitarian catastrophes,” says Jos Lelieveld.

Stricter environmental laws has led to reduction of nitrogen oxide emissions in Israel and the Gulf states; however, the decrease in other regions goes hand in hand with political and economic crises, wars and the consequential flows of refugees.

This is particularly evident in Syria, where since the outbreak of civil war in 2011 the nitrogen dioxide values have dropped by 40 to 50 percent over Damascus and Aleppo.

The emission story for Iraq isn’t straight forward like Syria through. The country has been in turmoil since 2003; however, since 2005 power consumption has risen by four to five percent per year, and the gross domestic product even by six to seven percent per year. This increase in power consumption let to an increase in nitrogen oxide emissions in the Kurdish north and the south of Iraq from 2005 to 2014.

In Kerbala, a city south of Baghdad predominantly inhabited by Shiites, it even rose by about ten percent per year. The picture is very different in and around Baghdad and in the regions in the center of the country occupied by the so-called Islamic State: There the nitrogen oxide emissions declined since 2010.

Researchers believe that the drastic changes in nitrogen oxide emissions in Iran result from the sanctions that were considerably tightened by the United Nations in 2010. These sanctions caused the previously growing gross domestic product to fall by six percent in 2013 and 2014, and declined nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions. It is also found that emissions from Iranian ship traffic, important for the oil exports, dropped drastically.

The economic crisis in Greece can also be read from changes in nitrogen oxide emissions. Over Athens they dropped by 40 percent since 2008. During the same period, the gross domestic product fell by five percent per year.