Visuals of Darfur tragedy now on Google Earth

Google teams up with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum to give users new information about the humanitarian crisis in Darfur

Stark visuals of the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan -- including maps showing where millions of refugees have gone -- are now available on Google Earth in a partnership with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The museum works to stop current genocide in addition to educating people about the history of the Jewish holocaust, and Google Earth can help the museum demonstrate the destruction in Darfur in new ways, said Sara Bloomfield, museum director.

While people can find information about the crisis in Darfur, more information in new formats is needed to spur more people to action, she said during a launch of the Crisis in Darfur project at the Washington, D.C., museum. Although information about recent and past genocides has been available, many people have had trouble comprehending and responding to the tragedies, she added.

"We learned the difference between information and understanding," she said. "Adequate response requires both understanding and empathy -- understanding of the scope and the magnitude of the situation and empathy for these victims as individuals."

The museum's partnership with Google presents a "unique opportunity" to show the scope of the problem in Darfur, she said.

Daowd Salih, a refugee from Darfur, agreed, saying more people need to be aware of the crisis. "People around the world need to see what genocide looks like," he said. "It's not about numbers, it's about people, people like my brothers and sisters who are still in Darfur. We need people to understand what is happening."

As many as 400,000 Darfurians have been killed in the conflict, according to numbers from aid organizations. The government and Janjaweed troops have killed "innocent children, women and elders," Salih said.

The Sudanese government disputes the death estimates from aid organizations and has denied backing the Janjaweed militia.

One map available on Google Earth uses flame symbols to show the location of more than 1,600 Darfurian villages that have been damaged or destroyed by Sudanese troops or the Janjaweed militia. By zooming in on the map, Google Earth users can see markers for the tens of thousands of homes that have been destroyed since mid-2003.

By selecting a 3D option, Google Earth users can see the population of camps where the 2.5 million displaced Darfurians have gone. Another map shows areas where it's too dangerous for aid workers.

Along with the maps and charts, there are photographs and videos showing the situation on the ground. One photograph shows an infant with a bullet exit wound in her lower back after being shot by raiders. The maps and other media on Google Earth also link to pages telling users what they can do to get involved.

Google sees the project as an important part of the company's social responsibility, said Elliot Schrage, the company's vice president for global communications and public affairs. Schrage called the crisis in Darfur a "global catastrophe."

"We believe technology can be catalyst for education, for understanding, and importantly, for action," he added.