Electromagnetic Savannah
Commentary on science, technology and economics in Nigeria and beyond

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Google Earth turns spotlight on Darfur

Here's a news story reported by the BBC about Google Earth teaming up with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum to highlight the killings in the Darfur region in Sudan. The idea is to draw people's attention to the issue by not only providing high resolution maps that show burnt homes and villages in detail but to also provide annotations with personal stories behind the violence.

So, being the curious nosey parker that I am, I thought to take a look and see what exactly Google Earth were offering. I downloaded the software
here, then installed it and ran it. The first thing I noticed on rotating the globe round to Africa was that Darfur was highlighted.

I zoomed in on the highlighted area, and I must say that there was a lot of detail provided on the killings there... which villages had been destroyed, how many structures there had been there, camps that had been set up for refugees, testimony from victims and photos and videos of the affected areas. There had even been high resolution satellite photos taken to show villages with structures that had been burnt down.

Certainly there was enough information for the issue of whether there was a crisis to be beyond dispute. The critical question is whether the information will reach beyond the logical part of the viewers and touch their emotional part to move them to help, or whether it will embarrass the Sudanese government into getting serious about ending the conflict there.

The idea of remote satellite imagery works here because the result of the violence is very visible. I wish there was an analogous idea that worked for other acts that weren't so visible but were just as injurious to African citizens. For example, it would be great if there was a satellite that could take pictures not just of buildings but of what was going on inside buildings... then perhaps corrupt government officials would be shamed by seeing pictures of them taking kickbacks and bribes on Google Earth. Of course, I can't see such satellites being allowed anywhere in the airspace of such governments "for security reasons", you understand. ;)


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