A new study found that political events such as the Arab Spring and Syrian War may help lower air pollution in the Middle East.

Air pollution is partly influenced by the levels of nitrogen oxides (NO2) in the atmosphere, which are emitted by fossil fuels and other environmental events that involve combustion. Due to advancements in technology, experts are able to monitor the levels of NO2 from space. Since 2004, the results of the continuous investigations show an upward trend over the Middle East and the East and South Asian regions. In the new research, a group of experts found that the levels of NO2 in the Middle East were modified significantly not only due to quality control measures, but also because of the rise of political issues, economic crisis and armed conflicts.

The researchers utilized data from satellites to measure the changes of NO2 emissions in the Middle East over time. They then analyzed the results collated with the occurrence of the various political issues and social changes that coincide with the NO2 emission trends.

The findings of the study, published in the journal Science Advances, show that from 2005-2014, the levels of NO2 decreased in Middle East countries including Saudi Arabia, central Iraq, Egypt, Iran and Syria. The drop in pollutants was particularly noted beginning in 2010. These regions were previously comparable to the smog level increase in Los Angeles, California from the 1970s to the 1980s. Upon the comparison of economic and energy data collated from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the World Bank, it was discovered that the decline of emissions in the Middle East was initiated by socioeconomic struggles. As per statistical estimates, the emissions dropped by about four to six percent and occurred even though energy use and CO2 emissions shoot up in some nations such as in Egypt.

The said drop was also observed in some parts of the East Asia, most likely due to economic and industrial developments. "However, [the Middle East] is the only region where this pollution trajectory was interrupted around 2010 and followed by a strong decline," said Professor Jos Lelieveld, lead author from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry.

The study is the first of its kind to present the association between environmental indicators and political issues in the Middle East. According to the researchers, space monitoring data may help provide valuable data to policy makers. The reality, however, that positive environmental changes such as decline in NO2 emissions is driven by humanitarian damages, is somehow tragic.

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