SUDAN - The recent discovery of a huge underground lake in Sudan could spell an end to four years of conflict in the drought-stricken region of Darfur, a US geologist said Wednesday.
More than 200,000 people have been killed and some two million displaced in the conflict, sparked in part by competing claims to scarce natural resources in the western region, according to humanitarian organizations.
"Access to fresh water is essential for refugee survival, it will help the peace process and provide the necessary resources for the much needed economic development in Darfur," said Farouk El-Baz from Boston University.
The discovery was reported in last month's "International Journal of Remote Sensing" and the Sudanese government has since launched its "1,000 Wells For Darfur" campaign to raise sufficient funds to tap the precious resource.
Egypt has already committed to sinking the first 20 wells free of charge while the United Nations has sought help in selecting the best sites to sink the wells, Baz told AFP.
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The United Nations needs water supplies for its planned 20,000-strong joint UN-African Union force, due to deploy in Sudan possibly next year.
The lake was spotted by satellite and lies more than 550 meters (1,800 feet) below sea level. With a surface area of some 30,750 square kilometers (11,800 square miles), it is slightly larger than Belgium or Lake Erie.
The lake may have contained up to 2,530 cubic kilometers (606 cubic miles) of water in the past and was discovered using images from three satellites, one belonging to NASA, another to Canada and a third from the Pentagon.
Scientists were spurred into looking for the lake after the discovery a decade earlier of an underground lake in Egypt north of Darfur that is now used to irrigate some 60,000 hectares (150,000 acres) of land, Baz said.
Copyright © 2007 Agence France Presse