Red Cross shows 'human cost of war' in 3D exhibition of Mosul, Aleppo and Gaza

Thousands of images taken by volunteers highlight plight of those living in war zones

The International Committee of the Red Cross has created the Broken Cities exhibition to raise awareness of the ongoing struggles in Iraq, Syria and Gaza. Photo: ICRC
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From the destruction of Mosul's largest hospital to the razing of part of Aleppo's historic Old Bazaar, thousands of images taken by Red Cross volunteers have been put together to show the “human cost of war”.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has created an immersive experience to show the haunting aftermath of urban conflict by layering 35,000 individual photographs in the first-ever photogrammetric 3D exhibition of the interiors of war-damaged buildings.

The Broken Cities digital experience takes viewers on a journey through 3D models of Mosul Ibn Sina Teaching Hospital, Aleppo's Old Bazaar and a tower block in Gaza, using witnesses, stories of “endurance, solidarity and revival that emerge from the rubble”.

By telling their stories of the continuing struggles they face to rebuild their lives the Red Cross hopes it will raise awareness of the use of the impact of using heavy explosive weapons in populated areas.

"A change of mindset and status quo is urgently needed to reduce the devastating effects of urban warfare war on civilians which are foreseeable and largely preventable," the Red Cross told The National. "Despite mounting evidence of the devastating harm warfare in urban areas causes to civilians, global efforts made to address the humanitarian consequences of urban warfare, and repeated calls for action, have not translated into major improvements.

"Protecting and minimising the suffering of civilians must be at the centre of military policies, practices and training. Warring parties must avoid the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area in populated areas. The fundamentals principles of international humanitarian law must be rigorously applied before, during and after fighting."

In Mosul, its largest hospital, the Ibn Sina Teaching Hospital, was damaged during the battle to liberate the northern Iraqi city from ISIS in 2017.

When Iraqi forces arrived at Al Salam Hospital in the east of the city, they faced a massive ambush by ISIS fighters. As the soldiers retreated, air strikes reduced most of the buildings on the site to rubble.

In the documentary, Dr Faiz Ibrahim Al Hamdani, director of Ibn Sina Teaching Hospital, talks viewers through the destruction he encountered.

“When we entered the hospital, everything was burnt and what was not burnt was destroyed,” he said.

He was faced with trying to run a facility with no electricity and no water for six months, and had to dig two wells inside it.

The exhibition sees Dr Al Hamdani and colleagues reliving having to carry vital equipment over bodies and explosives.

But he reveals how they have been working to restore facilities in the city.

“Not all people can afford to pay the fees of private hospitals or to go outside the city,” he said.

“That’s why we reset the Ibn Sina Hospital from scratch. Our ultimate goal is to serve our people in the city.”

The historic Old City at the centre of Aleppo saw some of the worst battles of Syria’s civil war. Government forces finally took it from rebel control in December 2016, in a devastating siege that left the eastern half of Aleppo and much of the Old City, a Unesco world heritage site, in ruins.

Aleppo's souq dating as far back as the 1300s and running through the Old City, was severely damaged – nearly a third of it completely destroyed. Most of it remains that way: blasted domes, mangled metal and shops without walls or roofs.

Hasan Ahmad Swaidan owned a shop in the souq and says what happened has stolen Aleppo's heritage.

“It felt like somebody had robbed me of my home, taken my soul out of my body and stole our heritage – which is all this souq,” he said.

“One day we closed our shops and suddenly people with guns interrupted the souq and destroyed it. It had a major impact on people mentally, we didn't want to return, but we didn't stop work, life must go on.

“The elders say it’s too late for them to rebuild and restart their businesses but they hope their sons will do it. Everything in life dies, but not the souqs, they always come back to life.”

Planners are working to rebuild segments of the bazaar and eventually they re-inject life into the markets.

Broken Cities uses photogrammetry, an accurate surveying technique that used thousands of overlapping photographs taken by drones and handheld cameras by Red Cross volunteers, ensuring every angle and detail of each structure was captured.

“This unique project pays tribute to civilian survivors and offers a profound window into the human cost of war,” said Fabrizio Carboni, Red Cross regional director for the Near and Middle East.

“While cities like Aleppo, Gaza, and Mosul make headlines in war, the long-term needs and continuing challenges faced by their residents rarely make news. Broken Cities urges us to confront the hidden human toll of war in cities and the urgent need for change.”

He said by shining a light on the role of authorities and the international community in minimising civilian suffering, Broken Cities is aiming to inspire empathy and action among viewers as efforts to address the humanitarian consequences have “fallen short”.

The Red Cross is hoping the exhibit will emphasise the importance of respecting international humanitarian law and to avoiding the use of heavy weapons in populated areas.

Updated: December 30, 2023, 3:33 AM