Turkana county in which oil deposits were recently discovered, has huge amounts of underground water. To tap the resource, the government has launched a Sh131 million water survey in the area. "The survey of the groundwater in the drought affected Turkana county using radar technologies will go a long way in enhancing our understanding of ground water in this area," said director of waters resources in Kenya John Rao Nyaoro.
The project, launched in Nairobi yesterday, is supported by Unesco and financed by the Japanese government. Nyaoro said past satellite surveys have shown that Kenya has 60 billion cubic metres of renewable underground water compared to 20 billion cubic metres of surface water. This is the first time the government has embarked on large-scale mining of ground water. Nyaoro said a satellite technology called Watex System will map water wells in Turkana to help drillers reduce cost.
The project will benefit thousands of drought-hit pastoralists, who currently walk for many kilometres looking for water. Somalia and Ethiopia are also involved in the project because most ground water straddles between different countries. Director of Unesco in Nairobi Joseph Massaquoi said the water will be exploited in a sustainable way. "Nine months following the onset of the 2011 drought and famine crisis in the region, some nine million people still face food and water shortages in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia," he said.
Kenya is categorised as "water stressed" country and more than 80 per cent of people have no access to clean water, according to the UN. Massaquoi said the Turkana project will produce maps to guide experts who can drill the water at lesser cost. The move comes a month after researchers from the British Geological Survey and University College London released a report showing that Africa has 100 times more ground water than the amount found on its surface.
The report says some of the largest water deposits on the continent are in the driest areas like the Sahara desert. Experts, however, say groundwater may not solve all water shortages because some deposits are inaccessible. Yesterday, Nyaoro said the country has the necessary expertise to drill the ground but where necessary, foreign experts will be engaged. He said the Water ministry has already prepared a policy on how ground water should be exploited.