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Google Earth as a tool for social activism

14 June, 2007
By Allison Orr

Social justice organisations have a new resource to raise awareness on issues such as genocide and environmental degradation – Google Earth.  In April this year, Google Earth added a “Global Awareness” layer to its map program, which takes users directly to maps showing areas of crisis – both humanitarian and environmental.  Under this layer you can view the United Nations Environmental Project: Atlas of Our Changing Environment, the WWF Conservation Project, and Appalachian Mountaintop Removal.

Also under this layer you will find Crisis in Darfur, a joint project with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) and Google Earth.  This project, the first of its kind, aims to bring the humanitarian crisis in Darfur into full view for the public.  It allows people to view 3D satellite imagery, aerial and ground-level maps of the devastated region of Darfur and Eastern Chad.  The program allows users to zoom in and see burned villages, tent cities of people displaced from their homes, and refugees struggling to survive.  As part of the project, the museum has assembled photographs, data and eyewitness testimony accessible through Google Earth, bringing to light the conditions on the ground and giving a better understanding of the destruction.

Says Sara Bloomfield, Director, USHMM: "We hope this important initiative with Google will make it that much harder for the world to ignore those who need us the most."

While this technology brings into full colour the conditions in Darfur, and is useful in raising awareness to the general public, the imagery is not provided in real time and some of the content is up to two years old.  Amnesty International hopes to take this technology to the next level with "All Eyes on Darfur".  Launched this week, the project will post updated commercial satellite imagery to a website to monitor villages in Darfur that are at risk.  They hope that tracking developments and putting a global spotlight on activities may deter attacks in vulnerable areas.

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