(Boston) – A new humanitarian initiative to bring life-sustaining water resources to Darfur has been launched by the Government of Sudan following a meeting last month between Omar Al Bashir, President of Sudan, and geologist Farouk El-Baz, director of the Boston University Center for Remote Sensing. Called “1,000 Wells for Darfur,” the plan aims to create new groundwater resources to help establish peace and economic security in the region.
In addition to Sudan, the project has gained immediate support from the Government of Egypt as Dr. Mahmoud Abu Zeid, Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, has pledged to drill the initial 20 wells. The UN Mission in Sudan also plans to drill several wells for use by its peacekeeping forces.
“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,” said El-Baz.
“Any person, organization or county can contribute to this humanitarian effort. Those who provide $10 million or drill 10 wells will have their names on the wells forever,” El-Baz added. “New water resources will provide hope to the people of northwestern Sudan and will also allow for the migration of the labor force closer to the wells, where economic development is suitable and environmentally sustainable.”
Dr. Kamal Ali, Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources of Sudan, who also attended the meeting of President Bashir and Dr. El-Baz, believes “1,000 Wells for Darfur” will be a success.
According to El-Baz, the initiative has also been well-received by the public in Sudan. “The Governor of Northern Darfur, Osman Kebir, told me that news of the lake discovery brought smiles to the faces of the people in Darfur, and much needed hope to us all,” said El-Baz.
El-Baz traveled to Sudan last month to discuss the recent mapping of the borders of the ancient lake. The identification of the lake’s shorelines (at 573 m above sea level) was done by Eman Ghoneim, a research professor, and El-Baz in the laboratories of BU’s Center for Remote Sensing. The lake’s features, which are covered by wind-blown sand, were unveiled by radar data from space. According to the researchers, it occupied an area of 30,750 km², about the size of Lake Erie, and would have contained approximately 2,530 km³ of water when full during humid climate phases in the past.
“One thing is certain – much of the lake’s water would have seeped through the sandstone substrate to accumulate as groundwater,” said El-Baz. As proven earlier in southwest Egypt, just northeast of Darfur, a similar former lake is underlain by vast amounts of groundwater. El-Baz identified the “East Uweinat” basin in southwestern Egypt where the groundwater rises to 25 meters below the surface. This resulted in the drilling of over 500 wells to irrigate up to 150,000 acres of highly-successful agricultural farms where wheat and other essential crops are grown.
The next step for “1,000 Wells for Darfur” is the identification of the best locations for the initial batch of 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 El-Baz.
These activities are required by the development plans for future sustainable economic development in the region by the Government of Sudan with the aid of international agencies.
Farouk El-Baz, a veteran of NASA’s Apollo program of lunar exploration, has pioneered the study of desert landscapes using satellite images, particularly for the location of groundwater resources. He served as Science Advisor to the late President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, and is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering.
The Boston University Center for Remote Sensing is a research facility that was established by Dr. El-Baz in 1986. Researchers at the Center apply techniques of remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) to research in the fields of archaeology, geography and geology. In 1997, the Center was recognized by NASA as a “Center of Excellence in Remote Sensing.”
Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research. With more than 30,000 students, it is the fourth largest independent university in the United States. It contains 17 colleges and schools along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes which are central to the university’s research and teaching mission.