Water mapping may help bring peace to Darfur

Scientists from Boston University have mapped out the borders of a huge underground lake in the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan and their discovery bring hopes of quenching the people's thirst - and quelling the violence.

The conflict in Darfur is primarily a war of resources pitting nomadic Arabs against black African farmers.

According to the scientists, the mega-lake would, at its peak, have occupied an area larger than 30,000 square kilometres.

While it is no longer that large, the lake still contains a vast water resource which could be used to irrigate farmland and water beasts, massively reducing the strain on the region’s limited resources.

Now the Sudanese Government is planning to drill 1,000 wells in the region, and is looking for international support to fund the project.

A similar discovery in neighbouring Egypt led to 150,000 acres of agricultural land being reclaimed from the desert.

Boston geologist Farouk El-Baz, director of remote sensing at the university, said: “Access to fresh water is essential for refugee survival, will help the peace process, and provides the necessary resources for the much needed economic development in Darfur.

“New water resources will provide hope to the people of northwestern Sudan and will also allow for the migration of the labour force closer to the wells, where economic development is suitable and environmentally sustainable.”

The ancient lake was once above ground and its features, which are covered by wind-blown sand, were unveiled by radar data from space.

It is now believed that much of the water it once held will have collected in the aquifer below.

“One thing is certain – much of the lake’s water would have seeped through the sandstone substrate to accumulate as groundwater,” said Mr El-Baz.

The next step will be to attempt to identify the most suitable locations for the drilling of the wells.

“We plan to select the most appropriate sites through detailed analysis of space image data, geophysical surveys by local experts to confirm satellite image interpretations, and on-the-ground field data collection to determine the needs of the local communities,” said Mr El-Baz.

Once these sites have been set, attempts will begin in earnest to persuade the international community and individuals to help with financial support for the drilling.

Sam Bond

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