‘If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a virtual reality experience is worth a whole book’ - Kate Allen
Amnesty International has launched a new #360Syria “virtual tour” website
showing the devastation wrought by Syrian government barrel bombing of the besieged city of Aleppo.
The site, called “Fear of the Sky”, comprises specially-created 360-degree photography, narration, sound recordings, 3-D data graphics, and videos gathered by Amnesty-trained Syrian media activists.
The WebVR site takes the viewer into Aleppo’s rubble-strewn streets for a powerful and disturbing “immersive” experience. Visitors to the “Fear of the Sky” site can navigate around full-screen “photospheres” which capture the apocalyptic scenes and sounds after barrel bombing attacks. The images also feature the brave rescue efforts of unarmed civilian volunteers - the “White Helmets” - from the Syrian Civil Defence teams.
A narration from Syrian activist Razan Ghazzawi, now based in Leeds, explains how Aleppo has been subjected to intensive bombing by thousands of highly indiscriminate barrel bomb munitions - fuel tanks or gas cylinders packed with explosives, fuel and metal fragments - thrown out of hovering Syrian government helicopters. The #360Syria tour takes the viewer through the sights and sounds following barrel bomb attacks in several residential areas of Aleppo (Al Ansari Sharqi, Al Shaar and Tareq al-Bab), a school playground in the Saleheddine district, a market in the Boustan Al Qasr district, and the city’s main civil defence building. It also features barrel bombs scenes in other parts of Syria such as Douma and Damascus.
Amnesty has launched the #360Syria site working closely with a group of Syrian media activists from Aleppo called Lamba Media Production
. In the aftermath of barrel bombings and other attacks, these citizen journalists have visited various attack scenes to document the aftermath and to create a long-term body of evidence of widespread human rights violations by all sides in the conflict. Amnesty has helped train the Lamba activists in 360-degree photography, recently providing the group with RICOH THETA S 360-degree cameras to further develop the project.
The Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has claimed that government forces do not possess or use barrel bombs, though their use has been widely documented. Syrian human rights monitors say that almost 20,000 barrel bombs have killed over 8,000 civilians in the past two years alone. In a report
last year, Amnesty detailed the horrific damage done by Syrian government barrel bombing of Aleppo, where scores of people a month were being killed in the attacks - with schools, hospitals, mosques and crowded market places all hit.
Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a virtual reality experience is worth a whole book.
“This truly frightening virtual tour takes a person sitting at their computer in Aldershot or Aberystwyth straight to the bombed-out streets of Aleppo.
“Many of us might think we know what’s been happening with the Syrian government’s barrel bombing of places like Aleppo, but viewing these apocalyptic scenes from 360 degrees provides a new level of understanding.”
Tony al Taieb, CEO and co-founder of Lamba Media Production, said:
“The barrel bombing of Aleppo is one of the great crimes of the 21st century and Lamba is determined to record the devastation that these evil weapons are causing. The more we preserve and display the evidence, the more likely it is we’re eventually going to see people brought to justice for these terrible crimes.”
The #360Syria site was created in partnership with San Francisco design and technology company Junior
. Zac Rolland, technology lead at Junior said WebVR, explained that using A-Frame powered by Mozilla, offered an innovative way to put an empathy-building experience in the hands of an exponentially greater number of people. Zac Rolland said:
“The devastation in Syria is heart-breaking. Our challenge was to find the most compelling and accessible way for technology to help the world understand and experience what is happening on the ground. WebVR does just that.”
VR viewers on the streets of the UK
The #360Syria project builds on a street fundraising campaign launched last year which uses virtual reality headsets, part of Amnesty’s development of new technology-based campaigning. From last May, Amnesty began using virtual reality viewers in its street fundraising operations in London, Manchester, Bristol and Leeds, allowing people to see scenes of destruction in barrel-bombed districts of Aleppo. Street fundraisers have seen a strong and often emotional response from the public and a significant increase in people signing up to direct debit donations toward Amnesty’s human rights work. The highly cost-effective project uses inexpensive refurbished smartphones and low-tech virtual reality headsets (costing less than £15 each).
Amnesty intends to add further content from Syria to the #360Syria in future weeks and months, including materials provided by activists in Syria.