Google puts Darfur crisis on its map

Times Staff Writer

Google Inc., whose motto is “Don’t Be Evil,” has launched an initiative designed to highlight some.

A scan of the globe using the Google Earth satellite mapping program shows a large swath of Central Africa trimmed in orange. Zoom in and the words “Crisis in Darfur” appear, along with icons of flames marking 1,600 villages destroyed in fighting between government militias and rebels that has led to the deaths of more than 200,000 people.

The Google Earth feature, unveiled Tuesday, is a collaboration of the Internet company and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which hopes technology unavailable during past humanitarian crises can drive home the suffering in the isolated Darfur region of Sudan.


“This project will enable vast numbers of people worldwide to locate and visualize with great specificity both the events in Darfur and the millions of individual victims of those events,” said the museum’s director, Sara J. Bloomfield.

The brainchild of Andria Ruben McCool, a former Google employee whose family includes Holocaust survivors from Germany, the project uses enhanced satellite images combined with downloadable photos, video and other data from the museum’s Genocide Prevention Initiative. The goal is to fly viewers directly into Darfur’s crisis, right down to the ghostly remains of thousands of burned-out huts.

“People don’t know where Darfur is, so that’s the first thing ... taking this event that’s in the news and making it real to people,” said McCool, 39, who started the project two years ago while working in Google Earth’s enterprise group. Google allows employees to spend 20% of their time on individual projects, and McCool decided the downloadable mapping software would be ideal to raise awareness about Darfur.

She reached out to the Holocaust museum, which saw the technology’s potential and has started using Google Earth on its website,, to map Holocaust locations in Europe during World War II.

“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, the museum’s chief information officer.

Google executives embraced McCool’s idea as well, adding other employees to the project and deciding to feature it prominently on Google Earth. Elliot Schrage, vice president for global communications and public affairs, said the company hoped to do other humanitarian collaborations on Google Earth, building from existing global awareness mapping features, such as United Nations Environment Program sites.


Each pop-up window on “Crisis in Darfur” includes a “How Can I Help?” link that has information from the museum, such as relief organization and government websites.

McCool left Google in December but still consults with the company and said she had tears in her eyes during the unveiling Tuesday.

“I hope it makes a difference,” McCool said. “I hope some politician sits down and has a conversation with somebody else who’s a skeptic and opens up their computer and goes on the Internet and says, ‘How can you dispute this?’ ”

For Daowd Salih, a Darfur native who has worked to raise awareness of the crisis, that proof is vital to stopping the devastation in his homeland.

“We need people to understand what is happening,” said Salih, board president of the Damanga Coalition for Freedom and Democracy, a human-rights advocacy group based in Charlottesville, Va. “People around the world need to see what genocide looks like.”