Remote Sensing: A Tool to Track the Darfur Genocide

Posted on May 10th, 2012 by

The following is a guest blog by Gustavus Geography major Tong Thao as part of the course GEG345 Remote Sensing of Environment.

Mapping vegetation in Darfur using satellite imagery.

The genocide in Darfur is one of the most gruesome and bloody conflicts of the 21st century.  Fighting between the Sudanese government and rebel groups have killed an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 people and displaced about 2.5 million more.

A study by Yale University’s Genocide Studies Program (GSP) called “Tracking the Genocide in Darfur: Population Displacement as Recorded by Remote Sensing” uses satellite images to map vegetation change. But why does vegetation change have anything to do with genocide?  In Darfur, agriculture and livestock grazing has always been the dominant form of economic and subsistence activity. These types of activities change the way vegetation grows; there must be pasture land for livestock to graze on and land must be irrigated for agriculture. When the Janjawiid attack a village, they implement a “scorched earth” strategy, burning everything in sight so that there are no more resources left for any survivors. They loot livestock from villages and destroy farms, leaving empty lots of land for the natural vegetation to reclaim.

The study by GSP used MODIS, SPOT, and TRMM satellite data to create images showing vegetation change.  MODIS data were used to measure vegetation vigor and coverage. SPOT was used to test the MODIS data for accuracy. TRMM data were used to calculate and graph annual rainfall; this was done to show that vegetation recovery was not due to rainfall. During the conflict, annual precipitation was low, which nullifies the argument that vegetation recovery was due to precipitation.

If you want to read the full report, you can find it here:


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