Kenya strikes huge water reserve in arid Turkana region

Residents of Kenya's arid northern Turkana region fetch rare water. Scientists have found a major reservoir of underground water that will radically change the region's--and country's--fortunes, a new study released on September 11, 2013 said. FILE 

The people of Turkana who live in one of Kenya’s driest areas, have been sitting on massive undiscovered water reservoirs that could meet the entire country's needs for at least 70 years, scientists say.

The results of a new groundwater study released Wednesday showed that northern-central Turkana is home to a reserve of 250 billion cubic metres of water, and which is naturally replenished at the rate of about 3.4 billion cubic metres per year.

This is potentially Africa’s biggest freshwater underground source yet, larger than that found in sub-Saharan Africa's driest country, Namibia, last year, observers say.

This could increase the country’s share of accessible water by 8.5 per cent and is likely to double the amount of water that is available for consumption today — ultimately improving the lives of Kenyans living in water scarce areas, the government-backed study said.

Explaining the significance of the find, the director of Water Resources in the country's Environment Ministry, Mr John Nyaoro, said that in the next two months, the long-suffering people of Turkana would start enjoying the newly discovered resource.

"The total water we use in the country today is only 3 billion cubic metres per year which means the recharge in the Turkana aquifer alone can be enough to supply the people of Kenya. But because of the distance and terrain it would be difficult to get the water to other parts of the country," he said.

The water find is the second major natural resource discovery in Turkana after that of oil which was announced in March 2012 and comes after scientists last year said Africa was sitting on vast groundwater reservoirs.


It promises to radically change the fortunes of a region that only a year ago was ranked Kenya's most marginalised and which has for decades struggled with debilitating drought, coupled with neglect from the central government.

The study, done by among others the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) and the Kenyan government, found two major aquifers — bodies of permeable rock through which water can readily move — which were not previously exploited.

"We have drilled the aquifers, done test pumping and found the quality of water fit for human use. These boreholes will be equipped as soon as possible and the people will also be able to use the water for domestic irrigation," Mr Nyaoro said.

The significant findings were announced by Kenya's Environment Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu at a Unesco meeting in Nairobi.

"The significance of this is the potential to enhance groundwater development in Turkana and so position the government to better respond to the needs of the people, not only in Turkana and other Arid and Semi-Arid Lands areas, but in the entire nation,” she said.

“The primary aim of the survey was to explore, map and assess the available groundwater in Turkana County in order to provide a new basis for understanding water potential and spur socio-economic development in the region," she said.

Man-made river

The Lotikipi Basin Aquifer System, one of the two reservoirs, is located between Lokichogio and Lokitaung. The sedimentary aquifer has an estimated 207 billion cubic metres of freshwater reserves.

"The potential volume of water is comparable to the volume of water in the nearby Lake Turkana," Prof Wakhungu said.

Mr Nyaoro said the ministry plans to dig several boreholes on the aquifer and would also explore the possibility of creating a man-made river.

The other, Lodwar Basin Aquifer, is 16 kilometres from Lodwar town and is fed in part by the Turkwel River.

French scientist Alain Gachet, who previously developed a system using satellite imagery, radar and geological surveys to pinpoint oil under the ground led a team of researchers to Lokitipi, Turkana county where the water aquifer was discovered.

In an interview with ITV news website, Mr Gachet said, the Northern region and other parts of Kenya could bid hunger goodbye since the technology used is affordable and easy to apply anywhere.

Change lives

An oil man by trade, he used the technique to pinpoint mineral reserves across Africa but now he is applying the same technology to find water which is considered as highly precious in Africa than any oil or gold he has ever located.

"If the Kenyan government can embrace this system, fund the drilling and maintain the infrastructure there’s no reason this will not change millions of lives for the better,” says the report which adds that Unesco has embraced the system soon to be used to search for water sources in neighbouring countries.

The water reserve discovered in Kenya is one of the largest aquifers in Africa measuring approximately 100 km (62 miles) by 66 km (41 miles).

The report observed that Lotikipi alone holds 900 per cent more than Kenya’s current water reserves as it has a surface area of 4,164 km2 after five pools were drilled in Kenya's north west.

The aquifer’s suitability has been preferred due to its water bearing material gravel, sand and silt that support water extraction via use of a well such as the Ogallala Aquifer in the United States, one of the largest water reserves, covering portions of eight states.

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