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Thanks to his satellite remote sensing research, geologist Farouk El-Baz was able to locate vast reservoirs of water deep below the Sahara Desert in the troubled region of North Darfur in the Sudan. His findings hold the promise of bringing life-sustaining water to a region where there has been little surface water for tens of thousands of years.
Unfortunately for El-Baz, a research professor at the BU Center for Remote Sensing, and for the millions of people living in southern Sudan, the intermittent civil war there has put on hold El-Baz’s efforts to develop wells on the ground. But a group of dedicated BU students is undeterred. Soon after El-Baz announced his research results in 2007, the students founded the group BU 1001 Wells and began raising money to fund wells in Darfur. The wells would tap into the underground water source and help toward the Sudanese government’s goal of drilling 1001 wells in the region. The wells would be six inches in diameter, about 200 feet deep, and would be operated by a hand pump that a child can operate.
After six long years and successive waves of students passing through BU and working on the fundraising effort, in August incoming president Natasha Dilwali and outgoing president Melinda Hudson of BU 1001 Wells presented El-Baz with a check for $10,000 to El-Baz’s group 1001 Wells for Darfur. The students had conducted fundraising at booths in the GSU, in front of Marsh Chapel, and at events they organized. It was enough to fully fund the first well to be dug in Darfur—whenever the situation on the ground improves.
“In high school, I had been at an event and learned about the issues in Darfur,” recalled Dilwali. “When I joined 1001 Wells at BU, it was a small group, like a family. To be able to raise money and make a difference for people so far away is so amazing.”
Since 1986, under the direction of El-Baz, the Center for Remote Sensing has performed extensive research in the deserts of the Middle East. In southwest Egypt, the research resulted in the location of vast amounts of groundwater beneath the barren desert. Thus, over 500 wells now produce water for planting wheat, chickpeas, peanuts, and other crops.
The proven resources in that region, just across the border of Sudan, are capable of supporting agriculture in 150,000 acres for 100 years. Recently, the research was extended to the neighboring region of northern Sudan. The Center’s scientists defined the location and mapped the highest levels of a dry lake that filled a depression in North Darfur during past geologic times.
El-Baz brought his results to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 2008, who gave him the okay to explore for suitable well locations on the ground. He also convinced United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to offer support for the project. The rationale was that water from such wells would be life-saving for not only a huge refugee population in the Darfur section of Sudan but for the thousands of UN peacekeeping troops in that region.
However, the UN has advised El-Baz to put everything on hold until the situation turns around, which doesn’t look like any time soon. Meanwhile, the BU students responsible for leading the fundraising effort want to issue a challenge to students at other universities across the country to finance additional wells.
Some material in this article courtesy of Rich Barlow of BU Today.