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Google maps the Darfur crisis

Internet users can now interactively view satellite images of individual devastated villages.

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Keeping an eye on the crisis in Sudan's troubled Darfur region just got a little easier, thanks to a new satellite-mapping service offered by Google Inc.

Now anyone with a high-speed Internet connection can zoom in on satellite images of any of the 1,600 devastated villages and get detailed information provided by the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington.

The collaboration is an effort to raise awareness about the three-year-old conflict that has killed more than 200,000 and displaced more than 2.5 million people by giving ordinary people access to images generally available only to spies, diplomats, and heads of state.

Nobody questions whether Google Earth's new service is – in the specialized terminology of the Web – "cool." The question is: Will it will make a difference?

"It is an important contribution that makes it a bit easier for the average citizen to get his or her head around the enormity of the crisis," says John Prendergast, senior adviser at the International Crisis Group in Washington and an expert on Darfur.

"It's our hope that by combining this up-to-date satellite imagery with authoritative data and evidence from the ground in Google Earth we can make it harder for people to stand idly by when genocide happens,' " said Lawrence Swiader, spokesman for the Holocaust Museum, at a press conference.

But how up-to-date are the images? They are not in real time. Google Earth's images are photographs "taken by satellites and aircraft sometime in the last three years" and "updated on a rolling basis," according to Google's website. The Holocaust Museum's website says the satellite imagery of Darfur and Chad was taken between 2003 through 2006.

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