Citizen science for environmental and health issues in conflict zones
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Citizen science for environmental and health issues in conflict zones. Presentation by Katerina Zourou and Stefania Oikonomou, Web2Learn, at the 2022 edition of the European Citizen Science Association conference. Berlin, 5-7 October 2022
Citizen science for environmental and health issues in conflict zones
Citizen science for environmental
and health issues in conflict zones
Katerina Zourou, Stefania Oikonomou
Critically address citizen science (CS) in areas affected by armed conflict by
emphasizing environmental and health issues (in Ukraine)
● Map initiatives that belong to a broader understanding of citizen
science by taking the Ukrainian war as a case study.
● Analyze the initiatives based on a) monitoring domains b) monitoring
tools, c) levels of participation
● Address issues such as technology, advocacy and politicization
Environmental/climate justice and CS
● Environmental monitoring historically at the essence of CS (cf. Buckets of
● Environmental justice movements (since 80s) triggered by human-induced
environmental and health catastrophes.
● Since 2000: climate emergency => environmental justice > Climate justice
=> commonly addressed issues: community engagement, accountability, cultural
(Schlosberg, D., Collins, L. 2014, Ottinger, G.2010, Schaefer,T. Kieslinger,B., and Fabian, C.M. 2020)
Armed conflicts’ consequences on the wellbeing of
Conflicts pose a serious threat to the natural and cultural heritage of war-torn
Areas affected by war often face: illegal deforestation, mining, toxic hazards,
damage of water networks, human displacement.
However, environmental and health issues are rarely addressed in political
discourses about the war.
(Weir, D., McQuillan, D. and Robert A.F. 2019, Cottrell, L. 2020)
Critical points for CS during war
During armed conflicts:
● Different values in power relationships (political use of data, data as
“political weapon”) in citizen-driven environmental and health data.
● Responsibilities? who is accountable for affecting the environment?
● Security reasons impede the recruitment of volunteers
● funding and support from interested parties limit research scopes.
(Schulte to Bühne, H., Weir, D. 2022, Cottrell, L. 2020)
Mapping of initiatives that belong to a broader definition of CS
Analysis of 3 main features:
a) monitoring domains (Palacin-Silva et al., 2016, Gold, 2018)
b) monitoring tools,
c) levels of participation (Haklay, 2011)
Critical appraisal (Goodfellow, 2008): reflections on
a) (remote) citizen communities,
b) The role of technology and
● Among all environmental fields, the analyzed projects focus mostly on
● Despite war, there are still initiatives for collecting, aggregating,
● Levels of participation → remain low in CS environmental projects
● Data sources: in-situ data very limited; very small number of human
agents to monitor activity on the ground yet abundant remote
Citizen science in armed conflicts: now what?
Citizen Science in armed conflicts generates new understandings because:
● it challenges standard practices in environmental monitoring:
=> less citizens on the ground, massive displaced populations, diaspora
and volunteers eager to help with remote participatory actions.
● it empowers communities in the absence of State support facilities.
● it catalyzes technology: DIY/low cost sensing tools & of citizen-based
sensing networks due to high costs of current air quality stations
● it urges for a joint understanding of health/ environmental issues along
with socio-political ones (war).
(Schaefer, T. Kieslinger, B., and Fabian, C.M. 2020, Schulte to Bühne, H., Weir, D. 2022, Ottinger, G. 2010)
Repercussions on behaviors and policies
Citizen science (in an armed conflict) as enabler of open
Various uses of citizen-
!!! Diaspora; remote volunteers; user participation outside conflict zones
An example of a UA CitSci project w/ level 3
participation (participatory science)
Another CS domain (cultural heritage) with vivid
participation of citizens remotely
SUCHO : Saving Ukrainian Cultural
● over 1,500 international
volunteers since March 2022
● Online collaboration to digitize
and preserve Ukrainian cultural
the scope of today’s talk is to present CS projects in war-torn Ukraine, and we aim to do so by mapping current initiatives and analysing them based on their monitoring domain, tools and levels of participation. we also aim to raise issues of data ownership and politicization of CS that is observed in conflict zones.
We began by exploring CS φορ environmental issues
As you know, environmental monitoring has historically been the essence of CS
especially, since the 80s and the emergence of the environmental justice movements, and later on with the climate justice movements, issues of community wellbeing, engagement, accountability and inequality have been in the centred of those movements, affecting thus citizen science projects.
(air quality monitoring CS projects) AirBox, CAPTOR
Conflicts now bring obviously negative consequences on the wellbeing of communities.
Despite this critical situation, it is observed that
Doing CS during war is challenging
because, citizen-driven data can be used as political weapons and be manipulated for political reasons.
Second, it is not easy to identify who is responsible for the damages and catastrophes made in an area.
and those who financially support research and monitoring, may also limit the project’s scopes and impact according to their own interest.
Civilian science? a term worth exploring further
SafeCast: citizen-based monitoring of radiation data
Clean air for Ukraine: citizen-based monitoring of air quality (pollutants like CO2, ammonia, oxides of nitrogen in the air, etc.)
SaveEcoBot: Monitoring radiation levels and fires in Ukraine. (mainly from air stations- data from official stations and resources, i.e. Ministries)
Ecodozor: Monitoring of damages in infrastructure and industries, fires and environmental risks (categorize and assess environmental risks of incidents at industrial facilities and critical infrastructure. Assigned levels of risk take into account the type of industrial or other activities, the nature and location of incidents and other factors.)
Monitoring possible pollution and other environmental risks to the floodwaters from chemicals, debris and other materials present on the soil that was immersed by the river’s floodwaters.
From this analysis, we have observed that at the moment in Ukraine, CS domains are limited in context…
all these, lead us to our overall conclusions for CS in armed conflicts.
(final bulet): We believe that environmental and health issues should be considered/addressed at the same time with socio-political ones, because we believe that environmental and health activities should be placed at the core of war-related discussions, (as they are both sides of the same coin).
Participation in problem definition and data collection