Thu, Jul 19, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Ancient lake could help to end the Darfur crisis

AP , BOSTON

Scientists have discovered the underground remnants of an ancient lake in Sudan's arid Darfur region, offering hope of tapping a precious resource and easing water scarcity, which experts say is the root of much of the unrest in the region.

The researchers hope to drill at least 1,000 wells in the dusty territory and pump the long-hidden water to ease tensions among communities living there -- and strengthen efforts to restore peace in Darfur.

Decades of scarce water and other resources have stoked low-intensity local conflicts that eventually led to a devastating civil war.

The conflict has killed more than 200,000 people, displaced more than 2.5 million others and sparked a regional humanitarian crisis after feeding instability in Chad and Central African Republic.

"Much of the unrest in Darfur and the misery is due to water shortages," said geologist Farouk El-Baz, director of the Boston University Center for Remote Sensing, which led the effort that discovered the massive lake in northern Darfur using radar data from space.

"There have been two long episodes of drought during the past 20 years, each lasting for about seven years," El-Baz said, adding that the drought aggravated tensions between Darfur's ethnic African tribesmen and nomadic Arabs.

Water pumped from the underground reservoir -- measuring as large as the state of Massachusetts -- could help ease tensions in Darfur, he said. The wells could enable Darfur's nomadic Arabs to maintain their lifestyle, sedentary communities to flourish and irrigation to kick-start agriculture activities that may feed trade and economic growth, he said during a telephone interview.

El-Baz, a veteran of NASA's Apollo lunar exploration program, has pioneered the study of desert landscapes using satellite images.

Radhia Achouri, spokeswoman for the UN Mission in Sudan, said she could not comment because she had not read a report on the discovery and was not sure how soon the water could be exploited.

Scientists plan to identify the best location for drilling the initial batch of wells.

Egypt has pledged to drill the first 20 wells, officials said.

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