Satellite imagery of Syria in March 2011.
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Satellite imagery of Syria in March 2011.#withSyria
Satellite imagery of Syria in March 2011.
Satellite imagery of Syria in March 2012.
Satellite imagery of Syria in March 2013.
Satellite imagery of Syria in March 2014.
Satellite imagery of Syria in February 2015.
Satellite imagery of Syria in March 2011.
#withSyria
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Satellite Photos Show Most of Syria Without Lights

Mar 11, 2015

More than three-quarters of the lights in Syria have been extinguished since the internal conflict began four years ago this month, according to an analysis of new satellite imagery released on Wednesday.

Scientists based in China analyzed nighttime satellite images and found that 83% of lights had gone out. The study was backed by 130 international NGOs that are part of the #withSyria coalition, which aims to raise awareness about the ongoing conflict.

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“What is happening on the ground in Syria is a humanitarian and human rights catastrophe of the first order,” said former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who briefed the media on the results of the analysis. “I believe it is the single most important issue in the Middle East today, yet it sometimes feels as though the world has forgotten about it.”

More than 200,000 people have been killed and another 4 million have fled the country in a conflict that started in March 2011 between rebel groups and President Bashar al-Assad. The ensuing power vacuum paved the way for the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, which has seized swathes of territory in both countries.

People fleeing their homes, physical destruction and power shortages can all contribute to the decline in night light, which provides a unique glimpse into the destruction wrought by the violence in Syria. Levels of night light have fallen more in Syria over the course of the conflict than they did in Rwanda over the course of the genocide there in 1994, according to Dr. Xi Li, the leader researcher on the project.

“Satellite imagery is the most objective source of data showing the devastation of Syria on a national scale,” he said in a statement. “Taken from 500 miles above the earth, these images help us understand the suffering and fear experienced by ordinary Syrians every day, as their country is destroyed around them.”

The eclipse was most accentuated in the northern city of Aleppo, a fierce battleground between rebel groups and government forces where night light dropped 97%. Government-held cities have fared somewhat better, including Damascus, where night light dropped 35%.

The activist groups behind the study called for the new data to serve as a wake up call for the international community. In a separate report being released this week called "Failing Syria,"several NGOs accused the UN Security Council of failing to to follow up on three resolutions to protect civilians passed in 2014. The death toll in Syria reached a new high last year.

"The international community can and must supply more intense political pressure to stop the violence and human rights abuses that are fueling this crisis," Albright said. "I believe that we have a moral obligation to bring all partners to the table to find a solution and end the uprooting and destruction of the Syrian people."

Read next: U.N. Security Council Comes Under Fire Over Failure to Help Syrians

Syria in 1940: Crossroads of the Middle East During WWII

A view of Damascus, Syria, 1940.
VIEW GALLERY | 25 PHOTOS
A view of Damascus, Syria, 1940.Margaret Bourke-White—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
A view of Damascus, Syria, 1940.
Raising the French flag at Aleppo, Syria, 1940.
Women carry water containers on their heads as they lead mules along a road in a desert village near Damascus, Syria, 1940.
Members of the Bedouin "camel cavalry" near Damascus, Syria, 1940.
Street scene, Damascus, Syria, 1940.
View of the downtown area of Aleppo from atop the ramparts of the great citadel built in the 4th century B.C.
View from above Aleppo, Syria, 1940.
Soldiers urge a mule up the steps of the citadel at Aleppo, Syria, 1940.
Scene in Aleppo, Syria, 1940.
Inside the garrison of the French expeditionary force in the great citadel at Aleppo, Syria, 1940.
Street scene, Aleppo, 1940.
A narrow street in downtown Aleppo, Syria, 1940.
A Moroccan soldier of the French expeditionary force holds an officer's Arabian horse inside the great citadel at Aleppo, 1940.
Engineers relax on the grounds of the great citadel, Aleppo, 1940.
French Foreign Legion soldiers at their outpost at Homs, Syria, 1940.
French Foreign Legion soldiers gather around newly erected tents as they set up their outpost near Homs, Syria, 1940.
South of Homs, men of the Tunisian infantry prepare to eat.
Archaeological ruins with modern homes in background, Syria, 1940.
A family walks past the walled town and beehive-shaped homes of Tell Bisse, Syria, 1940.
View of the walled town of Tell Bisse, Syria, 1940.
Syrian children outside the walled town of Tell Bisse, Syria, 1940.
Page spreads, LIFE magazine, May 20, 1940
Page spreads, LIFE magazine, May 20, 1940
Page spreads, LIFE magazine, May 20, 1940
Page spreads, LIFE magazine, May 20, 1940
A view of Damascus, Syria, 1940.
Margaret Bourke-White—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Imag
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