Friday, April 13, 2007

Google Maps and Darfur

The Christian Science Monitor has a very interesting article on a collaboration between the National Holocaust Museum and Google Earth that allows anyone with web access to see the devastation of villages in the Darfur region of Sudan:


Keeping an eye on the crisis in Sudan's troubled Darfur region just got a little easier, thanks to a new satellite-mapping service offered by Google Inc.

Now anyone with a high-speed Internet connection can zoom in on satellite images of any of the 1,600 devastated villages and get detailed information provided by the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington.

The collaboration is an effort to raise awareness about the three-year-old conflict that has killed more than 200,000 and displaced more than 2.5 million people by giving ordinary people access to images generally available only to spies, diplomats, and heads of state.

Nobody questions whether Google Earth's new service is – in the specialized terminology of the Web – "cool." The question is: Will it will make a difference?

"It is an important contribution that makes it a bit easier for the average citizen to get his or her head around the enormity of the crisis," says John Prendergast, senior adviser at the International Crisis Group in Washington and an expert on Darfur.
Will more awareness of the devastation make a difference? I doubt it. The problem is not one of knowledge, but of will. We all know that a genocide is occurring in the Darfur, but the international community simply lacks the will to do anything serious about it. As the article notes:

"The problem in Darfur is not a lack of information, and it's not a lack of understanding of the magnitude of the problem," says Peter Kagwanja, a senior analyst at the Human Sciences Research Council in Tshwane, South Africa. "[The problem is] a lack of action by the international community," he says


And I found this very disturbing:

Yet one NGO official, who requested anonymity, told the Monitor that Khartoum is using Google Earth itself. "They are using Google Earth to intimidate NGOs in the Darfur area. They go up to NGOs and tell them, 'We are using Google Earth, we can monitor your activities.'"


Still, this is a worthy effort by Google, and similar efforts might be useful in other contexts.
Read it all.

(To access the maps, go to this site . Click on 'Download Google Earth,' and wait for the software to be downloaded. Open the program; in bottom-left corner, click open tabs 'PrimaryDatabase,' then 'Global Awareness,' then 'USHMM: Crisis in Darfur.'Check the box next to 'Darfur' so markers appear over the region. Double-click the word 'Darfur' to automatically zoom in on the region).

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