Called "Google Earth Outreach," the new program gives U.N. workers the ability to use Google Earth and Maps to highlight conditions of refugees and programs to help them in any area of the world.
Google representatives unveiled the project Tuesday with U.N. officials at the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
"The potential for us and the potential to serve our interests and to serve the refugee interests round the world is quite substantial and we need now only seize the opportunity and move ahead with it," Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees L. Craig Johnstone told more than 250 staff and guests at a ceremony at UNHCR's Geneva headquarters, according to the UNHCR Website. "I think we will all be beneficiaries of it at the end of the day."
The pilot Google Earth Outreach program, which went live Tuesday, enabled staff and their clients to call up detailed refugee scenes, according to the Website. Johnstone said the application would help extend UNHCR's outreach and visibility. The program is first focused on three areas-- Darfur, Colombia, and Iraq. Plans are underway to expand the program.
"In 2008, we are going to spread around the world and try and capture all of the major sites and make sure that they are all available so that people can see what the actual situation is on the ground," Johnstone said. "It will make it possible to bring that suffering (of refugees in harsh environments) to people, so people can understand where the responsibilities actually are," he added.
Rebecca Moore, head of Earth Outreach for Google, told the audience of U.N, workers they could add video interviews of refugees, photographs of displacement crises and educational text to the satellite backdrop to educate even casual users about unfolding crises. "Use Google Earth to tell your story," Moore said, Reuters reported.
"We're very excited to participate with UNHCR," Moore said, before demonstrating the tool. "The idea is to take an abstract concept -- refugees in some country that people have never visited and may in fact never visit and take them there virtually -- so that they can get an intuitive understanding of what the real issues are."
Google Earth's popularity has grown rapidly since its inception in mid-2005. About 350 million people around the world have downloaded it to date.
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