It’s not often we hear much in the way of good news from Africa – for Africans – (n.b. this post has since been amended, please see below) but the news that one of the prime drivers of the civil war in Sudan, namely a scarcity of water, may have been halted, or at least slowed, will give encouragement to those wishing for an end to the conflict…

The (Boston University Center for Remote Sensing) team used radar data to find the ancient lake, which was 30,750 km2 – the size of Lake Erie in North America – the 10th largest lake in the world. A similar discovery was made in Sudan’s neighbour Egypt, where wells have been used to irrigate 150,000 acres of farmland, the researchers say.

The discovery is “very significant”, Hafiz Muhamad from the lobby group Justice Africa told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme. “The root cause of the conflict is resources – drought and desertification in North Darfur.”

He says this led the Arab nomads to move into South Darfur, where they came into conflict with black African farmers. He also said that it has long been known there was water in the area but the government had not paid for it to be exploited.

I would have thought that a government aware of plentiful water supplies which could potentially palliate a war in which 200,000 people are estimated to have dies, with a further 2 million being displaced, would have been keen to exploit this resource – and if they didn’t have the money to do so, I would further have thought they’d at least have announced it to the outside world, from where financial and other aid may well have been forthcoming.

Of course, it will need more than the discovery of this vast underground lake to end hostilities – it will have to be shown that both sides, the farmers and nomads, are being treated equally and being given sufficient access for their needs – I’m not sure if this lake is being fed and constantly replenished, or whether it will simply be sucked dry, merely for war to break out once more. And as in any war, there are many side issues, such as the deep resentment and mistrust between the two sides that has built up over the years, that will need to be addressed, for any long lasting peace to be able to take hold – but at least this discovery offers some sort of foundation on which a better future can be built. (TJ)

n.b. Update 20/07/07 – It now transpires that this lake may have no water after all – please see this link from BBC News – Ancient Darfur Lake ‘Is Dried Up’

See also: this report from 2005 – Radar Finds Water For Sudan Refugees

International Journal Of Remote Sensing.

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