When a group of teenagers in Daraa scrawled an anti-regime slogan on the wall of their school back in March 2011, few would have predicted Syria achieving the ignominious distinction of becoming a conflict that could redefine the region’s borders or alter the face of global terrorism in the form of the Islamic State (IS).

Coinciding with the fourth anniversary of the crisis on March 15, scientists from China’s Wuhan University in cooperation with the #with Syria coalition comprising 130 humanitarian and human rights NGOs, published satellite images on Thursday that show 83 per cent of Syrians having been plunged into darkness.

“Four years since this crisis began, Syria’s people have been plunged into the dark: destitute, fearful, and grieving for the friends they have lost and the country they once knew,” said David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, as per a statement made available to BusinessLine by the #with Syria coalition.

Four years on, electricity availability is among several daily challenges facing roughly 18 million Syrians, 58 per cent of whom are estimated to be unemployed. Multiple rebel groups and Syrian armed forces have engaged in brutal violence that has resulted in nearly 220,000 fatalities and displaced more than 11 million others, 3.8 million of whom now occupy refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq.

Image analysis

The images were analysed by a team led by Dr. Xi Li of the Laboratory for Information Engineering in Surveying, Mapping and Remote Sensing at Wuhan University who compared the levels of light in Syria’s 14 governorates (provinces) between March 2011 and February 2014 for a study that appeared in the International Journal of Remote Sensing last year. The release mentions that the data provided has been updated.

The team found that levels of night-time light in every governorate had declined sharply following the beginning of the crisis, declining by as much as 60 per cent in most of them. The analysis found that “the number of internally displaced persons showed a linear correlation with the level of night-light loss”.

In IS-controlled Al-Raqqah for instance, the decline was 96 per cent, in Idlib and Latakia where the Syrian armed forces faced off against the Al Nusra Front the figures are pegged at 96 per cent and 88 per cent. Aleppo, the country’s most populous province and the scene of prolonged warfare, registered a 97 per cent reduction in lights. Government-controlled Damascus recorded a 33 per cent decline.

“Satellite imagery is the most objective source of data showing the devastation of Syria on a national scale. Taken from 500 miles above the earth, these images help us understand the suffering and fear experienced by ordinary Syrians every day,” said Dr. Li.