Kenya Finds Massive Water Aquifer Under Turkana Desert

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Written by Dana Sanchez

In a region of Kenya known for malnutrition, poverty and fossils, the discovery of a massive underground water aquifer could supply the entire country for 70 years – a find that is better than oil.

UNESCO and the Kenya government today announced the discovery of the Lotikipi Basin Aquifer, one of the worlds largest underground water aquifers. It lies under the desert north of Turkana, where malnutrition rates can be as high as 37 percent, according to a report in TheGuardian.

With an annual recharge rate three times the water use in New York City, experts say the aquifer means Turkana will never experience famine again.

The water was found by Radar Technologies International, a U.S.-based natural resources exploration company with offices in France, using radar and satellites. The largest aquifer at 250 billion cubic meters of water is equivalent in volume to Lake Turkana, one of the largest lakes in the Great Rift Valley.

The amount of water that can be sustainably exploited each year – the annual recharge rate – is estimated at 3.4 billion cubic meters, the report said. The Turkana region has suffered repeated droughts. Kenyans are still haunted by images of starving children in 2009-2010 during the worst drought in more than 60 years that affected more than 10 million people in the Horn of Africa, the report said.

“This discovery will transform Turkana,” said Alain Gachet, the man behind the discovery at RTI. “In 10 years time I see no more suffering, no more dying of hunger or thirst, people will have schools, roads, farms. Life will be much better for them and famine will be a thing of the past.”

Ikal Angelei is director of Friends of Lake Turkana, an organization that champions the rights of the lake’s communities and ensures their involvement in decision making on issues relating to the lake and its environment.

“This is an extremely exciting find for my community,” Angelei said. “While we celebrate however, we must be wise. The first thing we must do is confirm the recharge rate so that we do not kill the golden goose, and we must also protect against speculators and unscrupulous people who threaten to take it away from the local communities. The Kenyan leadership must plan carefully to ensure that in developing the resource we protect and respect the rights and the needs of local communities who must benefit.”

Richard Leakey, chairman of the Turkana Basin Institute, said the find came as no surprise.

“This discovery confirms what we have always believed,” he said. “This area is an ancient lake bed, the water had to have gone somewhere. This is also the cradle of mankind and I hope that finally the importance of Turkana for Kenya and the world will finally be recognized.”

According to UNESCO, about 17 million of Kenya’s 41 million people lack access to safe water, BBCNews reports.

“This newly found wealth of water opens a door to a more prosperous future for the people of Turkana and the nation as a whole,” said Kenya’s Environment Minister Judi Wakhungu. “We must now work to further explore these resources responsibly and safeguard them for future generations.”

In 2012, scientists released a map detailing vast reservoirs which lie under much of Africa. Another aquifer was found in Namibia – the continent’s driest country.