Google on Tuesday unveiled an important new feature for its mapping programs that will provide information on the movement of refugees around the world.
According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which is collaborating with Google on the Refugee mapping project, the maps will ease humanitarian operations as well as inform the public on the whereabouts of millions of people who flee their homes from violence or hardship.
The U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said during the launch of the project in Geneva, that everything done for refugees by the UNHCR in the refugee camps around the world will be made public.
Users will be able to view satellite images of refugee hot spots such as Darfur, Iraq and Columbia by downloading Google Earth software which is available free on Google Inc.'s web site.
Djabal Refugee Camp in eastern Chad is one of the biggest camps, housing refugees from the conflict in neighboring Darfur.
Google Earth users can zoom and see individual tents clustered amid a sparse landscape, and view the difficulties faced in the area like of providing water to about 15,000 displaced people.
The web-giant said more than 350 million people already use Google Earth, a software which was launched three years ago to the public, in spite of being initially intended for highly realistic video games. The idea for the refugee mapping project came after rescuers used it during the Hurricane Katrina.
Google Earth has formed partnerships with many nonprofit groups seeking to raise awareness, recruit volunteers and encourage donations, including Jane Goodall Institute, the U.N. Environmental Program and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Google wants to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful, said Samuel Widmann, head of Google Earth Europe.
There are plans for Google to provide a special version of its mapping software that can be used without an internet connection to aid workers in the field.
Google also promised to provide nonprofit groups in several countries with training and free copies of its $400 professional mapping software.