Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Some News Just Bears Repeating.

We just don't get enough thrilling news these days - the sort that makes your heart leap and fill with hope. So even though I wrote about this item in the blog sidebar this morning, have now decided to give this an entry of its own.

Huge Underground Lake Discovered in Sudan, Could Bring War to an End

A team from Boston University discovered a huge underground lake under the arid, violence-ridden region of Darfur.

Some believe the roots of the conflict lie in competition for resources between Darfur's Arab nomads and black African farmers - thus this discovery brings hope of an end to the bitter fighting.

This underground lake still needs to be confirmed by drilling some wells, but if borne out, is a simply staggering discovery.

The five-thousand year old lake is the size Massachusetts.

It's as big as Lake Erie, the tenth largest lake in the world.

This, in a land where starving, suffering people must trudge water jugs daily - sometimes for miles - and risk rape, torture or death every time they venture out on this mission. Access to water is one of the primary problems for the refugees of Darfur.

The population is crying out for help. According to UNICEF, more than 2.3 million people, or 70 per cent of the conflict-affected population, has helped them in projects to gain access to safe water.

How their lives would change with abundant, clean water.

Geologist Farouk El-Baz and his team of 20 other researchers from Boston University used radar data to find the body of water. They identified possible streams running from the ancient lake, which was once replenished by rain and is now obscured by the arid sands of northern Darfur.

Baz says under hundreds of feet of sandstone there could be enough water to replenish the region for a century.

UPDATE: NPR's Noah Adams spoke to Farouk el-Baz Thursday morning on NPR's Day to Day. Listen to the interview here.

The timing of this find couldn't have been choreographed better.

Just last month, on June 16th, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a Washington Post editorial that climate change was partly to blame for the conflict in Darfur.

"It is no accident that the violence in Darfur erupted during the drought," Ban wrote. "Until then, Arab nomadic herders had lived amicably with settled farmers. A recent Atlantic Monthly article by Stephan Faris describes how black farmers would welcome herders as they crisscrossed the land, grazing their camels and sharing wells. But once the rains stopped, farmers fenced their land for fear it would be ruined by the passing herds. For the first time in memory, there was no longer enough food and water for all. Fighting broke out. By 2003, it evolved into the full-fledged tragedy we witness today." (Read his full editorial here: A Climate Culprit in Darfur)

In that same month, geologist Farouk El-Baz showed Sudanese officials images of what appears to be an underground lake. It wasn't entirely new to him. Two decades ago made a similar discovery in his home country, Egypt. That led to the drilling of 500 wells, which now irrigate 150,000 acres of farmland. And upon this news from Sudan, Egypt has pledged to donate workers and equipment to drill 20 wells in Sudan.

That would be a tiny start, because the Boston team's discovery could lead to a thousand wells.

We won't know until November, when Baz plans to return to Sudan to scout sites by helicopter.

I, for one, will be watching, waiting....and hoping. And hoping that this resource doesn't become to source of yet another conflict.

More on how this lake was discovered, and its implications, in this BBC article, and in the Boston Globe.