Friday, 29 January 2010


Darfur (Arabic: دار فور‎ dār fūr, lit. "realm of the Fur") is a region in Sudan. An independent sultanate for several hundred years, it was incorporated into Sudan by Anglo-Egyptian forces. The region is divided into three federal states: West darfur, South Darfur, and North Darfur which are coordinated by a Transitional Darfur Regional Authority. Because of the Warin Darfur, the region has been in a state of humanitarian emergency since 2003.
Darfur covers an area of some 493,180 square kilometers (190,420 sq mi)—approximately the size of France. It is largely an arid plateau with the Marrah Mountains (Jebel Marra), a range of volcanic peaks rising up to 3,042 meters (9,980 ft) of topographic prominence, in the center of the region. The region's main towns are Al Fashir, Nyala, and Geneina.
There are four main features of the physical geography. The whole eastern half of Darfur is covered with plains and low hills of sandy soils, known as goz, and sandstone hills. In many places the goz is waterless and can only be inhabited where there are water reservoirs or deep boreholes. While dry, goz may also support rich pasture and arable land. To the north the goz is overtaken by the desert sands of the Sahara. A second feature are the wadis, which range from seasonal watercourses that flood only occasionally during the wet season to large wadis that flood for most of the rains and flow from western Darfur hundreds of miles west to Lake Chad. Many wadis have pans of alluvium with rich soil that are also difficult to cultivate. Western Darfur is dominated by the third feature, basement rock, sometimes covered with a thin layer of sandy soil. Basement rock is too infertile to be farmed, but provides sporadic forest cover that can be grazed by animals. The fourth and final feature are the Marrah Mountains, volcanic plugs created by a massif, that rise up to a peak at Deriba Crater where there is a small area of temperate climate, high rainfall and permanent springs of water.
Remote sensing has detected the imprint of a vast underground lake under Darfur. The potential water deposits are estimated at 19,110 square miles (49,500 km2). The lake, during epochs when the region was more humid, would have contained about 607 cubic miles of water. It may have dried up thousands of years ago.
Darfur is conjectured to have been part of the Proto-Afro-Asiatic Urheimat in distant prehistoric times (c. 10,000 BC), though there are numerous other theories that exclude Darfur.
Most of the region is a semi-arid plain and thus insufficient for supporting a large and complex civilization. While the Marrah Mountains offer plentiful water, the Daju people created the first known Darfurian civilization based in the mountains, though they left no records beside a list of kings. The Tunjur displaced the Daju in the fourteenth century and introduced Islam. The Tunjur sultans intermarried with the Fur and sultan M. Solaiman (reigned c.1596 to c.1637) is considered the founder of the Keira dynasty. Darfur became a great power of the Sahel under the Keira dynasty, expanding its borders as far east as the Atbarah river and attracting immigrants from Bornu and Bagirmi. During the mid-18th century the country was wracked by conflict between rival factions, and external war with Sennar and Wadai. In 1875, the weakened kingdom was destroyed by the Egyptian ruler set up in Khartoum, largely through the machinations of Sebehr Rahma, a businessman who was competing with the dar over access to slaves and ivory in Bahrel Ghazal to the south of Dar fur.

The Darfurian were restive under Egyptian rule, but were no more predisposed to accept the rule of the self proclaimed Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmad, when his Emir of Darfur from the Arabs of Southern Darfur from Razeigat tribe led by Sheikh Madibbo defeated the British forces (that had just invaded Egypt in 1882) in Darfur in 1882 led by Slatin Pasha. When Ahmad's successor, Abdallahi ibnMuhammad, himself an Arab of Southern Darfur from Ta'isha tribe , demanded that the pastoralist tribes provide soldiers, several tribes rose up in revolt. Following the overthrow of Abdallahi at Omdurman in 1899 by the Anglo-Egyptian forces, the new Anglo-Egyptian government recognized Ali Dinar as the sultan of Darfur and largely left the dar to its own affairs except for a nominal annual tribute. During World War I, the British, being concerned that the sultanate might fall under the influence of Ottoman Empire, invaded and incorporated Darfur into the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan in 1916. Under colonial rule, financial and administrative resources were directed to the tribes of central Sudan near Khartoum to the detriment of the outlying regions such as Darfur.
This pattern of skewed development continued following national independence in 1956. To this was added an element of political instability caused by the proxy wars between Sudan, Libya and Chad. The influence of an ideology of Arab supremacy propagated by Libyan leader Muammar al-Gadaffi that began to be acted upon by Darfurians, including those identified as "Arab" and "African". A famine in the mid-1980s disrupted many societal structures and led to the first significant fig
hting amongst Darfuris. A low level conflict continued for the next 15 years, with the government coopting and arming "Arab" militias against its enemies. The fighting reached a peak in 2003 with the beginning of the Darfur conflict, in which the resistance coalesced into a roughly cohesive rebel movement. The conflict soon came to be regarded as one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world. The insurgency and counter insurgency has led to 300,000 deaths, though the numbers are disputed by the Khartum government. Over 2.5 million people have been displaced since the beginning of the conflict. Many of these refugees have gone into camps where emergency aid has created conditions that, although extremely basic, are better than in the villages, which offer no protection against the various militias that operate in the region.
The region is divided into three federal states: West Darfur, South Darfur, and North Darfur. The Darfur Agreement established a Transitional Darfur Regional Authority (TDRA) as an interim authority for the region. The agreement states that a referendum on autonomy for Darfur should be held no later than 2011. Minni Minnawi is the current Chairperson of the TDRA

Canned Up

We May Not Be Alone

The law of probabilities backs theories that we are not alone in the Universe, although an encounter with an advanced civilisation may shock our species, scientists at a conference in London said on Monday. "There is no firm evidence that life exists elsewhere, but there is a very firm probability" for it, said Baruch Blumberg, an astrobiologist at the Fox Chance Cancer Center in Philadelphia.
"My clear prediction is that living generations have an excellent chance of seeing extra-terrestrial life being detected," said Martin Dominik, an astronomer at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.
Life on Earth may have been kickstarted thanks to carbon molecules and dust that drift through interstellar space, said Pascale Ehrenfreund, an astrochemist at George Washington University, Washington.
If so, "the basic building blocks of life -- at least as recognised on Earth -- must be widespread in planetary systems in our Milky Way and other galaxies," she suggested.
The two-day conference is being hosted by Britain's Royal Society, one of the cradles of modern science, as part of a series of discussions on major issues to mark the academy's 350th anniversary.
The meeting is not intended to give any conclusion on whether other life exists but give a snapshot of where we are in our quest to find it -- and speculate on the impacts of such a discovery on human society.
Lord Rees, president of the Royal Society, said it was essential to admit to our present ignorance.
"We don't even know how life began here on Earth and that being said, we don't even know how to place our bets on how widespread life is or where to look for it," he said in an interview.
Even so, new astronomical tools, including powerful orbital telescopes, are exposing "extra-solar" worlds, or planets orbiting other stars, and one of them could eventually be revealed as a potential haven for life, said Blumberg.
Since 1995, "more than 400 extrasolar planets have been detected and the number is increasing rapidly," he said.
Intriguingly, though, none so far has been found to be in the lucky position of Earth.
We inhabit a rocky planet orbiting in the so-called Goldilocks zone, where it is not too hot, not too cold but just balmy enough for water, one of the key ingredients for life as we know it, to exist in liquid form.
Some of the speakers scorned Hollywood's notion of the extraterrestrial, whose anatomy was invariably inspired by a human design (four limbs and a head housing an external brain) and whose behaviour was driven by human emotions of anger and love.
If alien life exists, our first discovery is likely to be in microscopic form, which would not be too disconcerting for our civilisation, said Albert Harrison, a social psychologist at the University of California at Davis.
It could be as a bacterium found in promising sites in the Solar System such as the sub-soil of Mars, Jupiter's satellite Europa or on the Saturnian moon Enceladus, which are thought to harbour oceans beneath their icy crust, some hope.
Simon Conway Morris, a professor of evolutionary palaeobiology at the University of Cambridge, offered a contrasting view.
"My own opinion is that the origin of life is a complete fluke," he said. "I fear that we are completely alone... there's nothing (out) there at all, not a thing."
Should smart aliens want to contact us, he warned, we should not necessarily think they will be cuddly, kind and wise, in the Spielberg genre.
"They could be like the Aztecs, just as aggressive and extremely unpleasant," he said. "If I'm wrong, and the telephone rings, whatever you do, do not pick it up... we might not want to say hello."

Oh Dear!

He should have gone to Specsavers!


As a dedicated coffee drinker, I was interested in a BBC Lifestyle article on caffeinated drinks. If you enjoy drinking lots of coffee I am sure it will interest you too.

Caffeinated drinks
Many popular drinks contain the stimulant caffeine. It has a bad reputation, but what effects does it really have and does it bring any health benefits?

In this article
Effects of caffeine
Caffeine and weight loss
Green tea
Caffeine and iron absorption

Effects of caffeine

Caffeine acts as a stimulant to the heart and central nervous system, and is also known to increase blood pressure in the short term, although there's no conclusive evidence of long-term effects on blood pressure.
The effects on blood pressure are most likely when caffeine is taken in excessive quantities or by people who are highly sensitive to it. People who are hypertensive (have habitual high blood pressure) are advised to avoid caffeinated drinks, and pregnant women should limit their intake of caffeine to less than 300mg a day.
Caffeine content
Coffee (mg/cup)
61 to 70
Percolated ground
97 to 125
Tea (mg/cup)
15 to 75
Cocoa (mg/cup)
10 to 17
Chocolate bar
60 to 70
Cola drinks (mg/12oz can)
43 to 65

Caffeine and weight loss

Caffeine has been shown to have very modest effects on increasing metabolism, and is sometimes added as an ingredient to weight loss pills. These pills often make claims about speeding metabolism to 'effortlessly melt' excess fat, but in reality the amount of calories that slimming pills containing caffeine would actually burn is very small.
Caffeine may also suppress appetite, but without making other changes to your diet and lifestyle caffeine is unlikely to make a significant difference to your weight.


Coffee has been linked with a number of the risk factors for coronary heart disease, including increased blood pressure and raised blood cholesterol levels. But no relationship has been found between drinking coffee and the likelihood of developing coronary heart disease.
Coffee may be beneficial in some areas of health - for example, research has found it may reduce the risk of developing gallstones and kidney stones.
It's difficult to suggest a safe limit for coffee intake because of the huge variation in caffeine content across different brands and an individual's sensitivity to the drug. People with high blood pressure and pregnant women are advised to limit their caffeine consumption.
For the rest of the population, there's no evidence coffee does any long-term harm. Caffeine does have a very mild diuretic effect but, drunk in moderation, you don’t need to increase fluid intake to any significant degree as the loss of fluid is very minimal.


Tea contains some useful minerals such as zinc, manganese and potassium, and scientists are researching its potential to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and some cancers.
Tea contains antioxidant substances called flavonoids, which have been shown to help slow or inhibit the chemical reactions thought to take place during the development of coronary heart disease.

Green tea

There's also a lot of interest in the health benefits of green tea, particularly in relation to cardiovascular health. Again, this is due to flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants found in high concentrations in both green and black teas. The concentration of these compounds depends on how long the tea has been brewed, but can range from 125mg to 140mg.
Some studies have compared the concentration of these antioxidant compounds to that found in fruit and vegetables. Flavonoids bring potential benefits to heart health, as well as possible reductions in the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions.

Caffeine and iron absorption

Both tea and coffee contain polyphenols that can bind to iron, making it difficult for our bodies to absorb. Avoiding tea and coffee during and around mealtimes is important for people at risk of iron deficiency.

This article was last medically reviewed by the MRC Human Nutrition Research in July 2008.First published in March 2001.