ANNANDALE, New Jersey — The Horn of Africa is facing a nearly unprecedented drought. The region, consisting of the nations of Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti, is experiencing the worst drought in 40 years. After four consecutive years of scarce precipitation, the Horn of Africa is facing a series of compounding crises, chiefly a lack of access to potable water. In recent years, humanitarian organizations and local authorities have ameliorated droughts through the drilling of boreholes in the Horn of Africa.
What is a Borehole?
The countries in the Horn of Africa are experiencing high levels of water insecurity. According to Water.org, approximately 15% of Kenyans “rely on unimproved water sources.” Similarly, UNICEF reported that 89 million Ethiopians lack access to a safe water supply.
The recent drought only exacerbated these trends; therefore, both local authorities and international actors are trying to find solutions to the lack of clean water in the Horn of Africa. One such remedy to the water crisis is the borehole, a technology that is spearheading the drive to attain water security in the Horn of Africa.
A borehole is a shaft drilled into the earth to collect water. Usually, boreholes are drilled between 100 and 500 feet into the ground and domestic boreholes are typically six inches in diameter. Boreholes extract water from underground aquifers or groundwater beneath the surface.
Boreholes differ from wells in their construction and size. Wells are often dug by hand and have large diameters. In contrast, boreholes are constructed by penetrating the ground with drill rigs and have smaller diameters in comparison. Most importantly, one can drill boreholes to a deeper depth than wells.
These differences are paramount during droughts. Because boreholes can access aquifers deeper in the earth than wells, boreholes ensure a reliable reserve of water for drought-affected people. Wells frequently run dry during droughts and often become contaminated. Thus, boreholes provide ready access to clean water for vulnerable communities, especially for inhabitants of the Horn of Africa.
According to a 2019 study by the British Geological Survey, boreholes were “the most reliable source of water” during the 2015-2016 dry spell in Ethiopia. The same study found that communities reliant on wells were more prone to water insecurity than communities with functioning boreholes. To ward off the effects of future droughts, the collaborative research team recommended the drilling of more boreholes in the Horn of Africa.
The Blessing of Boreholes in Jarar, Ethiopia
Previously, the installation of boreholes in the Horn of Africa, particularly in rural areas, has drastically improved water security. In 2021, the Ministry of Water and Energy drilled five boreholes in the Jarar zone of the Somali region of Ethiopia. The boreholes have been a boon to the 600 families living in the area.
For the pastoralist Bishar Muse Idle, the boreholes meant that he could now more regularly water his livestock. Bishar explained to Wardheer News “Before the borehole was drilled, I used to water my goats every eight days, but now they drink water every two or three days…We are very much relieved of the water shortage now.”
The addition of boreholes allowed Nur Osman Galool and his family of six to return to their village. While the boreholes did not solve all of their problems, they did mollify their anxieties about water security. “We don’t pay for the water, and no one sleeps thirsty now…We don’t worry anymore,” he said in an interview with Wardheer News.
Boreholes Rejuvenate Somali Communities
Seventy-year-old Hassan Dhore spent countless hours walking long distances to retrieve a paltry amount of unclean water. Despite the water’s impurity, this was the only option for Hassan’s family who resided in the rural Somali village of Dhagahdher.
In 2020, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) worked to alleviate Hassan’s and other villagers’ plights by fixing the borehole in his village. The functioning borehole transformed the interminable hours spent traveling to get water into a relatively quick 20-minute walk, according to NRC. More recently, humanitarian organizations continued their work in Somalia to fix broken boreholes.
On May 10, 2022, a joint mission between the World Health Organization (WHO) and Somali authorities sought to provide clean water for two camps of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the city of North Galkayo, Somalia. By June 16, 2022, WHO and the local officials successfully repaired the defunct boreholes. Thus, approximately 19,716 IDPs now have access to clean water which both significantly reduces the risk of maladies and allows for easier day-to-day activities.
Boreholes Pave the Way for a Hopeful Future
As the addition of boreholes to Jarar, Ethiopia, Dhagahdher, Somalia and North Galkayo, Somalia illustrates, boreholes in the Horn of Africa are saving lives.
Therefore, one avenue to combat the current drought in the Horn of Africa is to drill more boreholes and repair existing ones. Boreholes could not only assist the Horn of Africa in this current crisis; additionally, boreholes could also help East African countries in future environmental or political challenges. With the continued investment in drilling boreholes in the Horn of Africa, a hopeful future is on the horizon.
– Alexander Portner