Newly compiled satellite images show how Syria has descended into darkness over the course of its four-year conflict, both literally and figuratively. 83% of the lights in the country are out, according to analysis by scientists from Wuhan University in China in cooperation with the international #withSyria coalition of NGOs. In some of the worst-affected areas, the black-out is nearly total: In Aleppo, 97% of the lights have gone out.
“Satellite imagery is the most objective source of data showing the devastation of Syria on a national scale,” said Dr. Xi Li, the lead researcher on the project. Over 220,000 have been killed in the conflict, 76,000 in 2014 alone, making it the bloodiest year of the war.
The researchers also found that losing night light is correlated with an increase in the displaced persons population—currently 7.6 million people—as well as destruction of infrastructure and power shortages.
“Night light denotes urban growth, economic development, population growth, power consumption increase,” Li said during a phone briefing Wednesday.
The regions with more light were Damascus, Quneitra and Homs. “We found that these relatively better regions are all or partly controlled by the Syrian Government. In Kurdish-controlled Northeast corner of Syria, it is still bright at night which shows this region has relatively better humanitarian situation.”
The latest figures and images update data presented in a 2014 study, in which the researchers analyzed how nighttime light can be used to monitor conflict.
The images are being released today by the #withSyria coalition, comprising 130 international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), to draw attention to the plight of Syria’s civilian population. They want the international community to strengthen its humanitarian response and intensify efforts to find a political solution to the crisis.
“The situation on the ground is getting worse, not better,” said former US secretary of State Madeleine Albright during the phone briefing, calling the conflict the “single most important issue in the Middle East.”