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Google Earth Outreach Program

By Bob Ewing     Apr 9, 2008 in World
The "Google Earth Outreach" programme gives UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies the ability to use Google Earth and Maps to highlight their work on behalf of millions of refugees
UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency along with Google unveiled a powerful new online mapping programme that provides an up-close and multifaceted view of some of the world's major displacement crises and the humanitarian efforts aimed at helping the victims.
The press release says that the program "Google Earth Outreach" gives UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies the ability to use Google Earth and Maps to highlight their work on behalf of millions of refugees and other populations of concern in some of the world's most remote and difficult areas.
"It's absolutely fantastic. 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 invited guests at a launch ceremony in the atrium of UNHCR's Geneva headquarters. "I think we will all be beneficiaries of it at the end of the day."
The pilot UNHCR layers make it possible for staff and clients to zoom in on specific refugee situations. The new tool would be particularly useful in extending UNHCR's outreach and visibility as well as for its own internal administration.
The UNHCR layers were compiled by technical and editorial staff within the agency's communications service are currently focused on three of the refugee agency's global operations in Chad/Darfur, Colombia and Iraq but plans are under way to expand.
"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.
"We're very excited to participate with UNHCR," Rebecca Moore, manager and founder of Google Earth Outreach, told the audience, before giving them a demonstration of the tool and showing them some of the new UNHCR layers.
"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," she said.
The new program provides humanitarian agencies with the skills and resources to use Google Earth and Maps to highlight their work to a mass audience. The agencies can overlay text, audio and video information onto Google Earth in the so-called layers, enabling them to explain and illustrate their humanitarian work to a worldwide audience.
There are three levels of detail available. The first provides an overview of UNHCR itself and takes the user on a journey to Chad/Darfur, Colombia and Iraq operations. The impact on neighbouring countries is also explored, and refugee camp locations are highlighted on the Google Earth maps.
The second layer brings the user even closer to the life of those in exile, exploring such elements as refugee health, education, water and sanitation. Pop-up windows linked to precise geographical points in camps and refugee communities provide written explanations, photos and videos of specific needs and operations.
The third level, the "macro-view," takes the online visitor right down to the local level within a refugee camp, allowing examination of schools, water points and other infrastructure found in a typical site.
As , the Google Earth program develops, it will allow UNHCR and its humanitarian partners to build and share with each other a visual, geographic record of their joint efforts on the ground to help refugees.
For example, this could include cross-border mapping of population flows as well as the location of displaced people in relation to their places of origin which is useful data in logistical planning for eventual repatriation operations.
More about Google earth, Humanitarian crisis, Foreign aid