NAIROBI – The recent discovery of the largest aquifer in Kenya’s history could soon put an end to the persistent droughts experienced by the residents of Northern Kenya. The aquifer was discovered by UNESCO in Turkana County and is said to have the potential to expand Kenya’s water reserves by about 10 percent over the next 70 years at an abstraction rate of 1.2 billion cubic meters annually.
The scientists involved in the project claim the discovery is greater in significance than the oil reserve discovered in Turkana a few years ago. UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, Gretchen Kalonjo, said UNESCO is proud to be a part of such an important finding that demonstrates how science and technology can contribute to industrialization, economic growth, and the resolution of real societal issues like access to clean water.
The aquifer is said to hold about 200 billion cubic meters of fresh water replenished by underground streams. Perhaps no one understands how much of a game-changer the aquifer is than the residents of Turkana who have, for decades, spent their lives in search of water.
One resident testified: “You have no idea what this means for our people. After years of being marginalized, our fortunes have finally changed. First with oil and now with fresh water greater than the salt water of Lake Turkana.”
Water Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu is aware of the benefit this discovery will not only have in the arid and semi-arid communities that surround the 4,164 km ² (2,587 miles ²) aquifer, but for Kenya as a whole. Wakhungu said that water accessibility and the socio-economic lives of the more vulnerable populations in the country are destined for improvement; the poor, the displaced, women, and children will now have a more viable access to water and ultimately a chance at a better life.
Wakhungu revealed that the government is working toward getting the water out of the ground and into the mouths and hands of those who are in desperate need. Of Kenya’s 41 million person population, 17 million lack access to safe water and 28 million do not have adequate sanitation.
A smaller aquifer was also discovered in Lodwar County in Northern Kenya and should contribute 10 billion cubic meters to the country’s water supply. The government is also looking to rollout the Japanese funded project nationwide at a cost of Sh1.5 billion ($17 million) using satellite, radar, and geological technologies that were used to find water 300 meters (nearly 1,000 feet) underground in the Lotkipi plains.