I don't claim any special knowledge of the current crisis in Sudan. But after spending some time flying over and zooming in the Darfur region via Google Earth I am a lot more informed. I'm also impressed at Google Earth as a software program and its ability to use the software to do more than just view satellite images of my backyard.
Largely the genocide in Darfur has been ignored by the world. But thanks to Google, in partnership with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the crisis is getting more attention by me and others via Google Earth.
Google Earth has added a Global Awareness layer to its maps program that lets you learn about the crisis in Darfur. By selecting the Global Awareness layer (in the lower left-hand corner of Google Earth) you can fly over enhanced satellite images of the war-torn region. Sprinkled over the map are icons that link to photographs, data, videos, and narratives of eyewitnesses to the genocide.
Using Google Earth I not only learned something about the 1600 villages destroyed in fighting between government militias and rebels, I was also able to learn about the conflict from the ground level via video clips, compelling photographs, and narrative text. Each Google Earth placemarker includes a "How Can I Help" link with links to relief organizations and government Web sites.
Hovering over a burned out village that looked eerily like a barren and pocked photo of the surface of the moon I read first-hand accounts from some of the thousands of villagers who have been displaced. Within a few clicks I found a video testimony of former United States Marine Brian Steidle who describes what he saw while in Darfur with the African Union Monitoring Force.
I'm struck as journalist how powerful a medium Google Earth can be in raising awareness, telling a story, and teaching. Google Earth does a very good job of putting topical information about the Sudan in context with the rest of the world. Not only do you get a handle on the literal scope of the problem, but when seen in a geographic perspective one gets a real sense of the size of the humanitarian tragedy.
Seeing satellite images showing the burned the out villages for myself and reading the personal stories breaks my heart. It reminds of seeing satellite images offered by Google Maps of New Orleans days after it was devastated by the hurricane Katrina. Like with New Orleans, I didn't get a sense of the detestation until I saw it with my own eyes - be it via Google Earth.
I hope Google Earth's Global Awareness layer is a catalyst for education and action. It brings to mind the Google's mantra "Do no evil" that is part of the company's philosophy. Google takes it one step further today and actually is doing good.