Google Maps now includes close-up views of UN refugee camps and aid projects.

The technology, which it is claimed was for first designed for use as video game backdrops, has now been adapted to show the plight of refugees around the world.

And it is hoped that by making the pictures accessible to Google's burgeoning audience, web users will be made aware of humanitarian crises around the globe.

Rebecca Moore, head of Earth Outreach for Google, explained to aid experts at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) headquarters that Google Earth has already been downloaded by 350 million people.

They mainly use it to scan for holiday destinations or to see what other corners of the world look like from above.

But Moore suggested that aid organisation could add video interviews of refugees, photographs of displacement crises and educational text to the satellite backdrop to educate even casual users about unfolding crises.

"Use Google Earth to tell your story", she urged.

She concluded: "We have realized that Google Earth has the potential to be a much more significant and meaningful tool".