Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Eyes on Darfur

Amnesty International has launched a new website -- Eyes on Darfur -- using satellite cameras to monitor vulnerable villages in the Darfur region of Sudan. Darfur is in western Sudan and borders the Central African Republic, Libya, and Chad. It is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis as the Sudan government backed Janjaweed militias carry out rape, murder and looting against the non-Arab civilian population of the region. Estimates vary but at least 200,000 have been killed and approximately 2.5 million people are displaced facing the possibility of death from starvation and war-related causes.

There has been an international outcry against the actions directed against Darfur’s population for years including from the United States. To date, however, the international community has been ineffective in bring the crisis under control. In the meantime, groups like Amnesty International, are doing what they can to keep the issue before the public.

This is from an Amnesty International press release:
"Despite four years of outrage over the death and destruction in Darfur, the Sudanese government has refused worldwide demands and a U.N. resolution to send peacekeepers to the region," said Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International. "Darfur needs peacekeepers to stop the human rights violations. In the meantime, we are taking advantage of satellite technology to tell President al-Bashir that we will be watching closely to expose new violations. Our goal is to continue to put pressure on Sudan to allow the peacekeepers to deploy and to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable civilians on the ground in Darfur."

Ariela Blätter, director of the Crisis Prevention and Response Center for Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), who led development of Eyes on Darfur, will describe the project and its capabilities at the Fifth International Symposium on Digital Earth at the University of California at Berkeley on Wednesday, June 6. Blätter will give a presentation from 2-3:30 pm Pacific time.

According to Blätter, new images of the same villages are being added currently within days of each other. This time frame offers the potential for spotting new destruction. Amnesty International worked with noted researchers to identify vulnerable areas based on proximity to important resources like water supplies, threats by militias or nearby attacks.

Amnesty International worked closely on the project with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which offered expertise on satellite imagery and other cutting edge geospatial technologies.

The images from commercial satellites can reveal visual information about conditions on the ground for objects as small as two feet across. According to Lars Bromley, project director for the AAAS Science and Human Rights Project who advised Blätter on technical matters, the photos could show destroyed huts, massing soldiers or fleeing refugees.

Eyes on Darfur also includes an archival feature, which shows destroyed villages since the conflict began in 2003 and includes expert testimony. For example, an image of the village of Donkey Dereis in south Darfur taken in 2004 shows an intact landscape with hundreds of huts. Two years later, a satellite image shows the near total destruction of the villages -- 1,171 homes gone and the landscape overgrown with vegetation.
Check it out here.


Tim said...

Well crap. If I knew you and I were blogging about this on the same day I would have linked to your entry.

Sisyphus said...

And likewise especially since you one-upped me with the USHMM link. (Readers, go to: )