Darfur through Google Earth: The reality of conflict through “Crisis in Darfur”

As reported on CNN, Google Earth (you’ll need version 4 or above) now brings to life through a stunning use of its technology the fall-out of the on-going war in Darfur, and the resulting catastrophic humanitarian crisis. As noted in the CNN story,

In an effort to bring more attention to the ongoing crisis in Darfur, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has teamed up with Google’s mapping service literally to map out the carnage in the Darfur region.

Experts estimate that 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million more have been displaced since the conflict flared in 2003, when rebels took up arms against the central Sudanese government.

The new initiative, called “Crisis in Darfur,” enables Google Earth users to visualize the details in the region, including the destruction of villages and the location of displaced persons in refugee camps.

In collaboration with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Crisis in Darfur uses Google Earth’s mapping technology (layers) to bring to life the atrocities committed in Darfur through images, stories, audio and video that’s as disturbing as they are compelling.

For a larger version of the image above, click here.

You can find out more about the layers and the information presented in each here. You can also download the layers from the USHMM site – click here to load photos, testimonies and maps once you have downloaded Google Earth. Download additional professional resources here.

Additional information on Chad and Darfur, Sudan can be found here, including a dataset that uses Google Earth’s timeline feature to show the attacks on civilians in 2006.

Darfur continues to attract much attention globally, but are only in scale more tragic than what’s unfolding in the North and East of Sri Lanka, which the New Zealand Herald recently called The New Darfur. Although this technology through eye-candy (disturbing as it may be) tries to galvanise global political actors and policy to act urgently against a further deterioration of conditions in Darfur, it’s unclear how earlier attempts at using technology have succeeded in raising and sustaining the level of awareness and compassion necessary to address such crises.

There is a need to publicise this information and technology (Google Earth is free and runs on Linux, Mac OS X and Windows, the datasets are also free) in universities, schools, policy making institutions and at every opportunity we have to convince those with the power to address what is essentially an unacceptable reality in these zones of conflict.

Technology can help raise awareness, but it’s up to us to take the real, hard decisions to save lives.

Update: Paul Currion has an excellent post on this initiative here. Question remains, how useful will the emergence of new ways to visualise complex datasets through tools such as Google Earth help in securing real action to prevent gross crimes against humanity that after Rwanda, global policy-makers pledged to never let happen again?

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