Google Earth Highlights Darfur Atrocities
Google Earth has added extra information to satellite images of the Darfur region to publicize atrocities there. The project is intended to highlight the destruction caused by the conflict -- even if a search for 'Darfur' causes the software to zoom in on Minnesota rather than Sudan.
The Internet search company Google is venturing into political territory. Together with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the popular online mapping service Google Earth inaugurated Tuesday a project to call attention to atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Google Earth users can now travel virtually to Darfur and get a bird's eye view of areas of Sudan affected by the ongoing violence. High-resolution satellite images of Darfur document displaced people, refugee camps and razed villages.
Users can zoom in to get a close-up of more than 1,600 destroyed or damaged villages, and images of remnants of more than 100,000 destroyed houses, schools, mosques and other structures are visible. Icons on the maps represent destroyed villages with flames and refugee camps with tents. Clicking on an icon opens a window showing statistics on the extent of destruction.
The online maps of Darfur also include a link to a presentation by the Holocaust Museum on the crisis, with testimonies, historical background, photos and video footage of the atrocities. Sources for the project include the United Nations, the US State Department, and the Holocaust Museum, as well as non-governmental organizations and individual photographers. Google says the images will be periodically updated.
The United Nations estimates that more than 200,000 people have been killed and more than 2.5 million displaced in four years of carnage in Darfur. Although Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has denied that widespread killings have occurred, the Hague-based International Criminal Court has accused officials and militias of orchestrating massacres, mass rapes, and the forcible transfer of thousands of civilians from their homes.
The United States calls the Darfur conflict the first genocide of this century. "We need President Bashir and other perpetrators to know they are being watched," said Daowd Salih, a native of Darfur and a former officer for the German Red Cross, who spoke Tuesday at the presentation of the project.
Google Earth allows users to zoom in on satellite images and maps of most of the world. According to Google, its free mapping service software has been downloaded by more than 200 million people worldwide.
Google's incursion into political territory may well prove controversial. The company was recently criticized for replacing post-Hurricane Katrina imagery of New Orleans on its map portal with views of the city as it had existed before the storm.
Meanwhile the Google Darfur project seems to be not entirely free of bugs. A search for "Darfur" in Google Earth conducted Thursday caused the software to zoom in on the small American town of Darfur, Minnesota, instead of the Sudanese region.