[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 April 2007, 06:23 GMT 07:23 UK
Google Earth turns spotlight on Darfur
By Laura Smith-Spark
BBC News, Washington

Visitors to Google Earth will see a marker pointing them to Darfur.

Using hi-tech satellite imagery, photos and eyewitness accounts, the ongoing crisis in Sudan's Darfur region is being brought into the homes of millions of internet users.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC has teamed up with Google's internet mapping service, Google Earth, to try to halt what they see as genocide.

By combining the museum's Darfur database with clickable images on the ground, they aim to create a "community of conscience" among internet users.

The hope is that people around the world will then put pressure on their governments to stop the violence in Darfur.

At least 200,000 people have been killed and two million displaced during the four-year conflict between rebel groups and pro-government militia in the region.

Sudan's government has so far refused to allow a joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission to be deployed.

Zooming in

From now, anyone logging into Google Earth will see a welcome screen with a marker highlighting the Darfur area.

People at a Darfur camp
More than 2m people are living in camps after four years of conflict
If they then zoom in, flame-shaped icons will lead them to satellite images of destroyed villages, where blackened rings show where burnt-out mud and straw huts once stood.

Other images show the tented camps where those displaced within Darfur and hundreds of thousands more who have fled to neighbouring Chad now live.

Users can also see photographs and personal accounts of people who have lost family members and homes to the violence.

John Heffernan, of the museum's genocide prevention initiative, said the site would show viewers the scope of the "systematic destruction" occurring in Darfur.

"This has certainly destroyed villages - it has also destroyed lives and livelihoods," he said.

Image of the Mornei camp, populated by people displaced by Darfur's conflict
The satellite images will be updated regularly by Google Earth

Museum director Sara Bloomfield said the challenge in preventing genocide was not only to inform people but also to make them empathise with the victims - and then act.

"When it comes to responding to genocide, the world's record is terrible," she said.

Each information screen has a link for people to follow for advice on what they can do to help - including writing letters to politicians.

And with some 200 million people using Google Earth over the past two years, the scheme's potential reach is huge.

The museum's Genocide Prevention Mapping Initiative - which aims to halt violence before it becomes genocide - could be extended to other conflicts in the future.

Home 'completely gone'

The museum's database of information has been gathered from the UN, US state department and aid agencies working in the region.

Daowd Salih
We need President Bashir and other perpetrators to know they are being watched
Daowd Salih
Darfur campaigner

Users can view more than 1,600 villages throughout Darfur that have been partially or completely destroyed, comprising more than 130,000 homes, schools, mosques and other structures, the project's creators say.

They plan to update the Google Earth site as new satellite images and information come in.

Daowd Salih, a former Red Cross and Red Crescent worker who was forced to leave his home in western Darfur, said he hoped the initiative would also serve as a warning to Sudan's leader, Omar al-Bashir, to rein in pro-government militias.

"We need President Bashir and other perpetrators to know they are being watched," he said.

Mr Salih, who now heads a campaign group on Darfur, has seen what little remains of his former village using the satellite imagery.

"It's one that has been completely destroyed," he said. "The site will show you how it was and how it is now - it is no longer there and you would never know where people used to play and gather.

"All this is completely gone, and we don't know how people will come back [to rebuild when the violence ends] - it will take years."

'It's us'

Google plans to track whether use of the Darfur site sparks new community and political action on the internet, taking that as a measure of success.

The personal story of a woman affected by the Darfur crisis
The site contains personal accounts of those affected by the crisis

So will it work? The Peavey family, visiting the Holocaust museum from Fremont, California, said they believed the public would grasp the project's message.

"I think people should know more about Darfur and about all the other genocides that are going on around the world," said David Peavey.

"We can offer help to get people out, we can offer places to take the refugees, we can put pressure on the government, we can document it, take pictures of it and show people's faces."

"I think the more personalised you get, the more of a difference it makes," said Arlynn Peavey. "You think 'it's people, it's us'."

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific