UN Proposal

Proposal to Establish a United Nations Mechanism to Oversee the Initiative of



Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, has pointed out that water shortages are the root cause of the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of northwest Sudan.  This statement was based on a 2007 report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Sudan Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment.  The report provided indisputable evidence of the consistent decrease in the amount of rainfall in the region during the past four decades.  Furthermore, meteorological data show that the region experienced repeated cycles of unrelenting droughts during the past 20 years.  These multi-year cycles, averaging seven years, affected the eastern part of the Sahel belt of North Africa.
Scarcity of rainfall and the attendant drop in groundwater levels caused affected people to migrate to sparsely populated areas in the Darfur region.  The drought migrants established villages and fenced areas around their huts and fields that surrounded water wells.  These sedentary communities encroached on land and water resources that were perceived as the livelihood of nomadic tribes.  Competition for the meager resources sparked the conflict, which developed into vicious war and lawlessness.  Helpless people, particularly women and children, evacuated villages in search of safety.  The UNEP report estimated that over two million people were displaced and many spilled over the western border of Sudan into Chad.  Therefore, provision of additional water resources to all those in need is essential to establishing peace, stability and a basis for economic sustainability in this troubled region. 
Recent analysis of satellite image data shows a potential of groundwater resources in areas that have not yet been explored.  Among these is the location of a former lake within a basin over 30,000 square kilometers.  This former lake, about the size of Lake Erie, spanned a depression in the northern part of Darfur.  Its geologic setting is nearly identical to that of a feature that was also discovered by space images just across the border of Egypt.  In this East Oweinat region, over 500 wells (hundreds of meters deep) have been drilled to serve thriving agricultural farms, where wheat, chickpeas and other crops are being profitably raised.  The proven water resources in the area are capable of supporting agriculture over 150,000 acres for 100 years.  Applying similar methods of exploration in northern Darfur would result in the location of groundwater to provide jobs and food for long-term sustainability and economic growth.
In the meantime, there exists an urgent need to locate additional water resources for people in refugee camps and villages throughout Darfur and eastern Chad. Satellite image interpretations followed by field observations suggest that additional water can be located by applying advanced methods and techniques to the space-borne data.  Wells in this case would be only tens of meters deep and can be dug at sites that are replenished by yearly rainfall during the summer months.  They can also be operated by hand pumps that do not require a source of energy.  Large numbers of such wells are required to satisfy immediate needs of local populations throughout the region.

1000 Wells Initiative

The result of scientific research on Darfur, conducted by the Boston University Center for Remote Sensing, was published in 2007. Following its publication, Assistant Secretary General Dr. Jane Lute organized a meeting of UN experts on 24 May 2007 to evaluate the options.  It was stated that the UN/African Union Peacekeeping Force of 26,000 personnel would also require additional water resources for immediate use.  Thus, it was imperative to confer with the Government of Sudan on the water situation and future exploration plans to satisfy both short- and long-term water needs.
I traveled to Khartoum to brief President Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan on 20 June 2007.  The meeting was attended by Eng. Kamal Ali, Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources, among other officials.  The concept of a thousand wells for Darfur was adopted at the meeting and formally announced in a public forum.  When this result was communicated to Dr. Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation of Egypt, he pledged to drill the initial 20 wells.  Later, the number of wells pledged by neighboring Egypt, which has had much experience in drilling wells in an identical environment to that of northern Darfur, was doubled to 40 wells.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon requested a briefing on the results of the  Darfur scientific research study in a meeting on 24 July 2007 at the UN Headquarters in New York.  He endorsed the initiative and encouraged further study to evaluate the potential of additional water resources to help establish peace in Darfur.
By invitation of Governor Osman Kebir, a field trip was organized in mid January 2008 to confirm preliminary analysis of the satellite images in the populated region of Darfur.  The survey was assisted by a UN helicopter that also carried a television crew of ABC News.  Field Observations supported the potential of groundwater within regions east and west of Jabal Mara, the main topographic prominence in Darfur.  Based on the observations, I also suggested erection of earthen dams along the many wadi paths to help replenish existing wells during the summer rain season. 
A meeting was organized at the Computer Man College in Khartoum to convey the results of the field observations to a group of local Sudanese experts.  The group elected to initiate data collection to continue the scientific dialogue in the near future.  Furthermore, discussions were held with Dr. Adam Ahmed, head of the Darfur Land Commission, which is charged with compiling a land-use map of Darfur for future development under the auspices of the World Bank.  A workshop is planned in Khartoum for this purpose in late October 2008.  Its purpose is to support the land-use map compilation taking into account the potential of groundwater resources.


It is clear that additional water resources are required in the short-term to satisfy the urgent need of:
- The Peacekeeping Force of the UN/African Union;
- Refugee camps in Darfur and neighboring regions of Chad; and
- Well sites that are considered essential for the livelihood of nomadic tribes.
These requirements can be satisfied by detailed studies of satellite images followed by geophysical surveys.  The latter can be conducted by experts who have expressed a willingness to do so using their own resources.  Similarly, the need exists to develop larger resources for long-term use in agricultural food production by private-sector investors. Based on the Egyptian experience, the site of the former lake in North Darfur is a candidate for supplying such resources in the long term.
It is envisioned that both short- and long-term activities require the following:
- A legal framework for the process;
- A mechanism for the collection of the required financial resources;
- Sustained effort of well-site selection based on scientific data; and
- Capacity building of local experts to sustain future work.


It is here proposed that the 1000 Wells for Darfur initiative be undertaken under the umbrella of the UN to assure:
- Timely support of the Peacekeeping Forces;
            - Accountability of spent funds;
- Cooperation with UN entities, such as UNICEF, UNDP, etc;
- Mobilization of people and organizations worldwide;
- Highlighting the ability of the UN to save people in dire need.
This proposal requires establishment of a specific fund to receive contributions from countries, companies, organizations and individuals.  It might also require relieving this particular fund from overhead charges to assure contributors that their gifts would be expended solely and directly for the objective of the provision of water.  Such a plan would also allow the UN to establish priorities of well-site locations and the selection of contractors to do the necessary work in both the short- and -long term stages.
Marketing for the collection of funds would be done separately without burdening the UN. Fundraising will concentrate first on the Arab region, where citizens are fully aware of the plight of the people of Darfur, who are fellow Arabic-speaking Muslims.  Wells recently drilled by NGOs in populated areas of Darfur cost approximately $10,000 each.  These are 200-250 feet deep, six inches in diameter, and operated by hand pumps.  Early indicators support the probability of success of fundraising in the Arab region for the initiative, particularly if wells are to be named after the contributors.
Another thrust of promising fundraising will concentrate on universities, schools and organizations in the U.S.  Americans throughout the country have been concerned about the people of Darfur and have shown willingness to help them.  This concern can be directed toward the goal of a 1000 wells, e.g., by organizing student groups to collect funds for a well to be named after their institution. Deeper, more expensive wells in the former lake can be left to larger contributions by countries or private-sector investors.

Dr. Farouk El-Baz, Director, Center for Remote Sensing
Boston University, 725 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston MA 02215
Tel: (617)353-5081; Fax: (617)353-3200; E-mail: <farouk@bu.edu>

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