The water in the underground in Turkana County – Kenya’s driest region- is estimated at some 250bn cubic metres of water. And that, according to estimates can supply the entire country with water for more than 70 years. Kenya currently uses only 3bn cubic metres a year.
And that is not a story for the life-changing water should already be flowing into the fields, homes, factories and business. Narrating how a new aquifer in the County has helped refugees and opened opportunities for food exports Martin Plaut of the Guardian newspaper of Britain wonders, “So why is Kenya slow to look for water elsewhere?”
“We’re hoping with the two test boreholes, the water should be available within a month. The first priority is to supply water to the people of the area, who have always been water insecure,” Environment Minister Judi Wakhungu had said.
The discovery of the water waxed journalists poetic with creative and picturesque descriptions of what life will be like for the nomadic Turkanas – and Kenyans in general – when the water starts to flow in the region. “It’s like striking the proverbial stone and seeing water came out,” one journalist wrote.
The environmental and wildlife campaigner Dr Paula Kahumbu said the discoveries will transform Kenyans’ perception of the country. “We see ourselves as water-poor, but this is not the case.”
Kakuma refugee Camp
Other writers have implied that the discovery of the water a reward to Turkana and Kenya for hosting the world’s largest and most diverse group of refugees. Turkana housed 170,000 refugees in the famous Kakuma camp.
When they arrived in this dry region, water was the biggest problem. Continues Martin, “Kakuma is in Turkana County – one of the poorest and driest parts of Kenya where it is blisteringly hot. Providing water for the growing refugee population has been a struggle, until now. The discovery of vast underground sources of water, announced in September 2013, has transformed the lives of these people. Since then, seven boreholes have been dug.
“All have been yielding, or high-yielding. Some produce as much as 60 cubic metres of water an hour, and a new well providing 110 cubic metres is about to come into operation. Before, water was scarce; now there is enough,” says Dominic Gachanja who works for the Lutheran World Federation, which administers the camps.
That was when water was still “trickling” before the discovery of the expansive underground lakes of water.
The Lutherans were provided with a satellite-based mapping technology developed by a French company, Radar Technologies International (RTI). This uses ground-penetrating radar to locate water in aquifers. Twenty-eight aid workers were trained to use the laptop, GPS system and maps that indicate where the best prospects for drilling are.
One giant aquifer, fed from the mountains in neighbouring Ethiopia, is estimated to be recharged at an annual rate of 3.4 billion cubic metres, nearly three times the water use of New York City. When the find was made, the government, supported by Unesco, announced that a nationwide groundwater mapping programme would be launched, to locate similar aquifers in the country. The most arid counties would be targeted first, to relieve the acute scarcity of water that many people face.
Davis and Shirtliff, the water and renewable energy equipment supplier, will bring the water to the surface, potentially turning the arid region into a food basket.