Malaysians enjoy clear skies, cleaner air as nitrogen dioxide levels plummet during MCO

These maps show the nitrogen dioxide levels in Peninsular Malaysia from March 18 to April 13, 2019 (left) and March 18 to April 13, 2020 (right). — Images courtesy of Think City
These maps show the nitrogen dioxide levels in Peninsular Malaysia from March 18 to April 13, 2019 (left) and March 18 to April 13, 2020 (right). — Images courtesy of Think City

PETALING JAYA, April 15 — Malaysians are experiencing clear skies and cleaner air during the movement control order (MCO) based on the latest information from Think City’s analytics department.

Maps produced using satellite spectrometry data have shown a dramatic fall in nitrogen dioxide levels in our skies, especially over Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru, since the MCO began on March 18.

Nitrogen dioxide is a widespread air pollutant produced by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas, with about 80 percent coming from motor vehicle exhaust fumes.

Breathing in the gas can lead to an array of respiratory problems such as increased inflammation of airways, coughs and wheezing, and increased asthma attacks.

The reduction in nitrogen dioxide in our skies can be attributed to people being less mobile during the MCO as the majority of Malaysians are told to stay home and prevent the spread of the virus.

Similar patterns have also been observed in China, Europe, and the US as major cities go into lockdown mode to put the brakes on Covid-19.

Think City programme director Matt Benson said that the positive environmental impact was an unintended consequence of Malaysia's MCO.

“As we are forced into hibernation, our cities are changing in ways we hadn't thought possible.

“Think City's mapping of changes in nitrogen dioxide between now and this time last year shows that as Malaysians move about less due to the MCO, there are reduced vehicle emissions.

“This is particularly evident along the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, which is where 20 million people reside,” said Benson in a press release.

He added that data is a key weapon in combating the Covid-19 crisis as it would help policymakers respond to the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.

Think City analytics lead Ceelia Leong and her team have been working on a Covid-19 Community Resilience mapping tool for social, economic, and environmental variables which can highlight vulnerable communities that may need additional public health, economic, or social welfare assistance.

“For the rest of the MCO and beyond, we will continue to use data mapping tools which we have developed inhouse to offer further insights on the impact of Covid-19 on Malaysia, how people are faring, and which places or groups require attention and action.

“We will also be releasing related maps and findings regularly on our social media platforms,” said Leong.

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