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Google Earth maps become venue for helping world

Socially minded outfits use the company's globe-mapping software to illustrate plights of refugees, others in need.

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Can Google Earth help save the world?

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced a new partnership with the search engine last week. The goal: To use the company's globe-mapping software to illustrate the plight of parts of the planet's population.

Google Earth, a free, virtual-globe program from the search engine company, lets users zoom in on locations around the planet. Users can also use special programs known as layers, which organizations can build to incorporate video, text, or other interactive features.

Under an outreach program, Google has been populating its virtual globe with socially minded projects from organizations such as Greenpeace, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and UNICEF. Six such layers have been launched in the past two weeks.

Click on the United Nations' "visit a camp" button in Google Earth, for example, and an online depiction of the globe spins and zeroes in on a satellite view of a refugee camp in Chad. There, visitors learn about the refugees who have fled to that country from western Sudan's Darfur region. Click on a button and users can find out how much money it costs to install, say, a new water source at the camp. Click again and users can donate that amount.

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