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A new study published in the journal Science Advances has found that the crisis in the Middle East has stemmed pollution in war-torn countries. The authors explain in their paper's abstract:

… a combination of air quality control and political factors, including economical crisis and armed conflict, has drastically altered the emission landscape of nitrogen oxides in the Middle East. Large changes, including trend reversals, have occurred since about 2010 that could not have been predicted and therefore are at odds with emission scenarios used in projections of air pollution and climate change in the early 21st century.

Healthy nations tend to emit more pollutants as they grow, explains. The authors confirm this upward trend by looking at historical data.

Around 2010, they found, that trend started to change in cities experiencing political and economic turmoil. The Max Planck Society, whose researchers co-authored the study, explained in a statement:

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.


Those dates align with the advent of the Arab Spring and tightening Iran sanctions (2010), the Syrian Civil War (2011), and the increasing power wielded by the Islamic State, or ISIS over recent years. The authors discuss in their paper:

Since 2013… in Baghdad and central Iraq, NO2 has decreased substantially, for example, including the cities Tikrit and Samarra that have been occupied by the so-called Islamic State. The armed conflict in this area has left marks, including a decrease in NOx emissions.

Some of the changes we're seeing, however, come from increased regulation. The authors point out that decreased emissions from Israel are likely a result of 2008's Clean Air Law, which took effect in 2011.


Science Advances

But don't think of this as a silver lining‚ÄĒreduced pollution from¬†tumultuous regions means increased pollution in safer neighboring regions like Lebanon, Jordan, and parts of Iraq.

Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.