Google Earth Allows World to Look in on Refugee Camps

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We’re sure that our readers are well aware that we live at a time of uncertainty, and in a world in which conflict seems to be constant. Scenes of the displacement of innocent civilians, especially women and children, into refugee camps, in Darfur, Iraq, the Sudan, and Afghanistan, are ever-present on the news. It’s extremely heartening, then, to hear about Google and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) jointly making available the Google Earth Outreach project, to raise global awareness of the almost 33 million displaced people that the UNHCR is today helping.

Google Earth Outreach is a mapping program, rather like a mashup of Google Earth and Google Maps, annotated with data relating to the current major displacement crises (remote areas of Chad, Iraq, Colombia and South Sudan/Darfur), and UNHCR efforts to assist the displaced victims. Once the tool is downloaded to your computer you can, with a few clicks of the mouse, view one of three levels of detail relating to your region of interest.


The upper level of detail shows the region in geographical and political context, highlighting current UNHCR efforts. With this level of detail, the impact of large scale displacement on adjacent countries can be analyzed, as well as distance from existing UNHCR resources, in order to offer needed emergency assistance as soon as possible after it becomes necessary.

Drilling down one level of detail shows the region including and immediately surrounding the refugee camp itself, onto which resources such as water, sanitation, health and education have been added. Also added to this level are rich media files, video, audio, and text, describing what refugees need in order to go about their daily lives, and the difficulties some of them face.

At the finest level of detail you can see a similar level of detail you can with Google’s StreetView – encampments, buildings, food and water storage and distribution, health clinics, and the like.

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In the almost 60 years since its inception, UNHCR has helped 50 million people restart their lives. Yet the need to protect the rights and safety of refugees is as great today as it has been at any time during that 60 years. While Google Earth Outreach will no doubt find much use in governments, in non-governmental organizations, and in charities, with 350 million downloads already, the tragic plight of these displaced peoples is clearly a subject of concern among the general Internet community too. We applaud Google applying itself in this area – to bring to your computer, situated in your safe, heated, and well-lit house, the experience of being in a refugee camp halfway around the world is quite something. In this, Google are being anti-evil, and we thank them.

No Paywall Here!
The Internet Patrol is and always has been free. We don't hide our articles behind a paywall, or restrict the number of articles you can read in a month if you don't give us money. That said, it does cost us money to run the site, so if something you read here was helpful or useful, won't you consider donating something to help keep the Internet Patrol free?
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