Can mega well bring peace to Sudan?
At least 300,000 people died and almost three million were displaced by the Darfur conflict in Sudan. Egyptian-American geologist Farouk El-Baz believes that limited access to water is one of the root causes of this conflict. Doctor El-Baz is director of Boston University’s center for remote sensing. He is known for his use of satellite images to search for water in the Mideast and North Africa. His work led to the discovery of a large underground water source in Egypt’s East Uweinat region near the borders with Libya, Chad and Sudan. This Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System (NSAS) contains over five million cubic feet of groundwater and is already bringing life and prosperity to a desolate part of the Eastern Sahara.
In 2007, Dr. El-Baz (left) used satellite-based ground penetrating radar to discover an ancient lake in the northern Darfur region of Sudan. At over 19,000 square miles this “Northern Darfur Mega-Lake” is vast– approximately the size of Lake Erie in North America.
Some time in recent geological history the lake slipped hundreds of meters beneath the desert sands and vanished from sight. Doctor El-Baz believes this underground lake can help restore peace to the Sudanese people so he proposed a 1000 wells project for Darfur.
The discovery of this lake brings hope, but Sudan’s complex problems will not disappear overnight. El Baz says it took more than a decade to convince the Egyptian government to dig wells in the NSAS region. It will take time to access this newly discovered water beneath Darfur.
It is also true that unequal access to natural resources can fuel conflict. How will Sudan assure that access to this life-giving resource is shared fairly amongst the people who need it? The Nile waters agreement provides a template for a legalistic solution but what are practicalities of pumping this deep water and distributing it across such a large region? Hugon Kowalski of UGO Architecture & Design proposed an award-winning solution in the form of water tower skyscrapers. These multi-use buildings were inspired by baobab trees and would host a water-cooled hospital, school and offices along with the water pumps and treatment plant.
Mr. Kowalski’s dreams are large and bold as they must be for such forward- thinking designers. It is important to refine such ideas to best meet regional needs and to carefully consider the impact of mining fossil water in this part of the world. But the people of Sudan may not have the luxury of time to wait for a perfect solution.