Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Darfur refugee Daowd Salih estimates only 2,000 to 3,000 homes in his native Sudan have access to the Internet, but he just hopes one person there is web-savvy: Sudanese President Omar Bashir.

“President Bashir needs to understand he is being watched,” Mr. Salih said. “He is not going to be changed, but he is going to know that 200 million people who didn’t hear about the situation [in Darfur] before, they’re going to know now.”

Mr. Salih joined representatives from the U.S. Holocaust Museum and Google Inc. yesterday to introduce an online mapping initiative designed to call attention to conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Battles between well-armed rebels and government soldiers or paramilitary groups in Darfur have displaced almost 2 million people, sent about 235,000 refugees to Chad and resulted in a death toll of more than 350,000 people since winter 2003, according to Tim Irwin, spokesman for a U.N. refugee agency.

The Crisis in Darfur project will use Google Earth mapping service to provide high-resolution satellite imagery from the conflict-ridden area. Red and yellow symbols dot the site’s map images of Darfur’s landscape, representing more than 1,600 destroyed and damaged villages. Users can zoom in on the colored symbols to see satellite imagery of the destruction. About 20 of the villages include black tabs that users can click to hear personal stories from particular villages.

Project coordinators say the remnants of more than 100,000 homes, schools, mosques and other structures destroyed in the conflict are clearly visible on the site.

The site’s content comes from the U.S. State Department, nongovernmental organizations, the United Nations, the U.S. Holocaust Museum and individual photographers, including actress Mia Farrow.

John Heffernan, the Holocaust Museum’s director of the genocide-prevention initiative, said the museum became involved to honor the memory of Holocaust victims by trying to stop atrocities today.

“You can see the scope and you can see systematic destruction on this site, but you can also access the personal nature of this through the pop-ups that give individual accounts of displacement,” Mr. Heffernan said. “This is a work in progress but our goal is to have people zero in on a particular village and then you can find out what happened in that village through personal testimonies.”

He described the situation in Darfur as a “slow genocide by attrition.”

“More people are dying from disease and starvation than from actual violence,” Mr. Heffernan said of the vast numbers of people displaced from their homes.

To find “Crisis in Darfur” on Google Earth, users must download the free Google Earth application from earth.google.com. Once downloaded, they can locate the project by viewing Africa on the site.

Elliot Schrage, Google’s vice president of global communications and public affairs, said the data used by the site is commercially available and regularly updated. Mr. Schrage said more than 200 million people use the Google Earth mapping service, most of whom he thinks are first drawn to the site to view their own homes.

“Google Earth, as a tool, enables users to see the relationship between where they live and the rest of the world,” Mr. Schrage said.

He said every time Google Earth users visit the site now, they will now see a yellow marking over the Darfur area. “I suspect a tremendous number of them will say ‘I wonder why that’s there?’ Then they’ll zoom in and they’ll try to find out more. And I think that’s exactly what we’re hoping will happen.”

Lawrence Swiader, chief information officer for the Holocaust Museum, agreed: “We can make it harder for people to stand idly by while genocide happens.”

The site also will include links to ways Google Earth users can help, such as contacting the media or aiding nonprofit groups.

Georgette Gagnon, deputy director of the Human Rights Watch’s Africa division, said she thinks some of the public is already aware of the Darfur situation.

“It’s very welcome that more information is being publicly distributed about the situation in Darfur, but the record is very clear and well known and has been for quite a while,” she said. “However, if this can lead to action on the part of the [U.N.] Security Council in particular and an end to the atrocities being carried out by the Sudanese government, then this is a very positive thing.”

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide

Sponsored Stories