BU Scientist Provides Near-Term Ways to Preserve Scarce Water Resources in Darfur

in College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, News Releases, Science & Technology
March 31st, 2008

Contact: Ronald Rosenberg, 617-358-1240 | ronrosen@bu.edu

Boston – Water — the crushingly scarce resource in war-torn Darfur – probably is within a vast, underground lake several hundred meters below the desert sands and dozens of meters deep along fractures in rock that surround the Mara Mountains.

That’s the conclusion of Farouk El-Baz, Director of Boston University’s Center for Remote Sensing, following his recent scientific mission in northern and western Darfur and after studying radar images from satellites to unveil depths beneath desert sands.

“The water on the flank of the Mara Mountains is not very salty because it is replenished by yearly rainfall,” said El-Baz, an Egyptian-American geologist who conducted similar research in southwestern Egypt that led to the drilling of 500 wells. “Potentially large amounts of water in the northern lake region of Darfur may be piped to the heavily populated settlements in the south enabling the growth of various crops such as maize, wheat and vegetables.”

Siting potential water wells in the region is viewed as a critical step for restoring peace in the area and reducing the widespread environmental problems that are the root cause of Sudan’s violence. The region has experienced a 40 percent decline in average precipitation since the early 1980s, according to United Nations estimates, which cited disruptions in seasonal monsoons and a rise in temperatures of the Indian Ocean.

In the mammoth, ancient underground lake — estimated in size to Lake Erie — El-Baz has called for drilling 1,000 wells and has gained international support. Egypt has pledged to drill 20 wells and he is hoping the United Nations and non-governmental organizations will also get involved in developing the water sources.

El-Baz’s quest for finding new sources of water in Darfur was recently featured by ABC-World News, where he predicted that if water was available to everyone, the violence and the constant struggle to survive would surely disappear. To view the report, see Farouk El-Baz on ABC_World News.

In his recent trip, which included helicopter flights followed by field surveys, El-Baz also provided the regional leaders of Darfur and the UN with more immediate suggestions for capturing rainwater that gushes down and quickly dissipates. To prevent this loss of water, he urged them to erect earth dams or berms to slow down the runoff from yearly rains that pass through wide and shallow river and stream courses before emptying out in the far distance.

These berms, each only a couple of feet high and a few hundred feet apart, would reduce the flow of water to recharge existing wells. El-Baz is planning to launch a more detailed study, collaborating with geophysics experts and examining high resolution images to select additional sites for groundwater wells.

“We have the facility to put science at the service of humanity and end much of the suffering,” he concluded.

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