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War in the streets

Just as the world’s population has grown more and more urban, modern warfare has also increasingly found a home among the apartment buildings, streets, neighbourhoods, business centres and markets of major cities. The conflicts in Gaza, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Ukraine offer some recent case studies on the impact that lethal weaponry can have on densely populated urban environments. They also emphasize the difficulty of protecting and preserving human life in battle zones where the systems needed to sustain life — water, sewage, electrical, transport, food and fuel supply — are complex and massive in scale. These photos, all taken during ongoing conflicts, provide a grim reflection on the long-term ramifications and enormous costs associated with once again making these decimated neighbourhoods places in which people can safely live, shop, work and play.


In addition to killing people, the use of powerful explosives in urban areas can cause a level of destruction that can literally change the urban landscape. In Gaza, a boy stands in front of a building destroyed by aerial bombing. Photo: ©Annibale Greco/ICRC


The type of explosive weapons often used in populated areas are frequently highly indiscriminate and are incapable of targeting with sufficient precision to avoid civilian casualties. Here, a woman passes a building destroyed by shelling in the eastern Ukrainian town of Popasna, in October 2014. Photo: ©REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili


In many of today’s urban conflicts, numerous actors are vying for control of various neighbourhoods or strategic areas. In many cases, they fire explosive weapons from areas where civilians are still living or working. Here, a fighter from an armed group in Libya fires a mortar during clashes with rival group south-west of Tripoli in October 2014. Photo: ©REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov


In many urban conflict zones, this is an all-too-common sight. The tail of an unexploded bomb protrudes from among rubble of damaged buildings in an area not far from the Syrian city of Aleppo. Aside from putting people’s lives in peril, the presence of such unexploded remnants severely hampers reconstruction efforts. Photo: ©REUTERS/Hamid Khatib


An Israeli woman receives medical assistance as she is evacuated after a rocket, fired from the Gaza Strip, fell in southern Israeli city of Sderot, 31 July  2014. ©AFP photo/Gil Cohen-Magen


The 2014 conflict between Israel and Gaza cost the lives of more than 2,000 people, including two Palestine Red Crescent Society emergency medical workers. In north-eastern Gaza, the Palestine Red Crescent Society, with the support of the ICRC, helped evacuate the wounded and provided emergency medical services to the affected population. Photo: ©Rama Humeid/ICRC


There is a psychological dimension unique to urban warfare, due to the ubiquitous presence and dangers posed by crumbling buildings and the threat of unexploded weapons, hidden in the rubble. The destruction of urban areas by explosive weaponry also raises questions about the future, particularly among young people, who must try to make a life for themselves, even find some semblance of normality, in a very abnormal environment. Here, a Palestinian girl plays with a balloon near what is left of her family’s house in the east of Gaza City in October, 2014. Photo: ©REUTERS/Suhaib Salem


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