The map shows the relative density of damaged structures for Homs — overlaid on Manhattan. (NASA/UNITAR-UNOSAT)

How devastating would Syria's civil war be if it hit American cities? According to a new United Nations report, four years of civil war in the city of Homs have had an impact which would be comparable to the destruction of much of Manhattan.

The report, released this week, uses the U.N. satellite program UNOSAT to present new images showing the scale of human suffering in Syria. Since the conflict began, about 6.5 million have been displaced and more than 220,000 killed.

According to the U.N., Homs has been affected particularly severely, with more than 13,000 affected, damaged or destroyed structures it described as "residential, health, educational and religious facilities." The authors then overlaid their damage assessment on a satellite image of Manhattan — a method which is supposed to show how spatially widespread the damage is but does not measure the number of victims.

The new report offers crucial insights into a war zone which has become too dangerous for many media organizations to cover from the ground. Instead, journalists frequently rely on social media footage to assess developments in Syria.

The UNOSAT analysis does not attempt to blame individual parties for certain acts of violence, but rather is a documentation of the atrocities committed by all sides in the conflict. "Trapped in the middle of all this fighting is a civilian population trying to survive under conditions of extreme hardship," the authors note.

The satellite image of Homs was taken after the city had been besieged for two years. It proves that the two-year-long shelling not only destroyed the city's outskirts, but was especially disastrous in the city center.


The map shows the relative density of damaged structures for Homs. (NASA/UNITAR-UNOSAT)

What distinguishes the current U.N. report from previous analyses is its detail. For instance, the researchers examined the National Hospital complex in Homs. By April 2014, the buildings had been heavily damaged, forcing the remaining doctors to operate in makeshift underground hospitals.

According to Doctors Without Borders, there were at least eight field hospitals in the north of Homs by March 2015, providing medical services for about 350,000 people who have been besieged for more than a year. "Medical supplies can only reach North Homs after a perilous journey on dangerous and insecure roads full of checkpoints, where the probability of death, arrest and confiscation of material is high," the organization said.

Another U.N. photo shows three schools in Homs that were damaged by shelling during the war. Attacks on schools are common in Syria — often claiming the lives of students, teachers and parents.

According to the organization Save the Children, more than 3,000 schools have been damaged.

To view more satellite images from the U.N. report, please CLICK HERE.

Photo credits: 

Homs, National Hospital: European Space Imaging (DigitalGlobe). CNES 2014-Distribution Astrium Services/Spot Image. Airbus Defense and Space.

Homs, Schools: European Space Imaging (DigitalGlobe). CNES 2014-Distribution Astrium Services/Spot Image. Airbus Defense and Space.