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ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — New Google-powered software will help the world tackle problems related to climate change, deforestation and food production, a United Nations agency said on Friday, as it presented its revamped online platform.

Open Foris, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) software, uses high-resolution satellite images to monitor the environment and changes in land use and forest cover.

“We make maps that used to take three years in a week,” Erik Lindquist, forestry officer at FAO, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Rather than preparing data to analyze we can spend time probing the data for answers. We’re getting to answers much more quickly,” he said on the sidelines of a global forest conference in Rome.

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Lindquist said the software was free to use by anyone, from citizens who want to monitor misuse of natural resources to scientists or governments wanting to assess the carbon storage capacity of an area.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the total forest area in the word, how much forest is being lost and gained, how is the land use changing and what are the effects on carbon emissions,” Lindquist said.

“The more we use these tools the more we’re going to be sure of whether the situation is improving or getting worse.”

The software can also be deployed to inspect water resources and even evaluate locations for refugee camps based on availability of firewood for cooking, he said.

Earlier this month, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres launched the MapSwipe app, which also uses satellite images and allows users to map remote, rural regions vulnerable to humanitarian crises.

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