Kenya aquifers discovered in dry Turkana region

Water gushing from the ground
Test drilling confirmed there was water underneath the arid ground

A huge water source has been discovered in the arid Turkana region of northern Kenya which could supply the country for 70 years, the government says.

The discovery of two aquifers brings hope to the drought-hit region, tweeted Environment Minister Judi Wakhungu.

They were found in the Turkana Basin and Lotikipi Basin using satellites and radar.

Last year, scientists released a map detailing the vast reservoirs which lie under much of Africa.

Another aquifer was found in Namibia - sub-Saharan Africa's driest country.

Turkana is one of the hottest, driest and poorest parts of Kenya and was hit by a devastating drought last year.

Many of the region's inhabitants are nomadic herders, who are especially vulnerable to a lack of rain.

Test drilling confirmed there was water under the ground.

The discovery was announced by Ms Wakhungu at a meeting of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Unesco.

"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. We must now work to further explore these resources responsibly and safeguard them for future generations," she said.

'Irrigation and industry benefits'

The aquifers are said to hold some 250bn cubic metres of water.

Ms Wakhungu said Kenya currently uses about 3bn cubic metres a year.

"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."

Water gushing out of a borehole at Napuu area during the flushing process, Kenya
The huge water source has been discovered in the arid Turkana region of northern Kenya.
A Kenya police reservist delivers clean water to a thirsty child at the Lotikipi Borehole
The government estimates the two aquifers found in the the Turkana Basin and Lotikipi Basin, using satellites and radar, could supply the country for 70 years.
A typical Turkana homestead, Kenya
Turkana is one of the hottest, driest and poorest parts of Kenya and was hit by a devastating drought last year. According to the UN, about 17 million of Kenya's 41 million people lack access to safe water.
Local pastoralists lead their livestock to the water draining from the borehole, Kenya
Many of Turkana's inhabitants are nomadic herders, who are especially vulnerable to a lack of rain. Fighting over resources like water has been the main source of conflict in many arid areas of country.
Technicians install a submersible pump in a borehole prior to test pumping, Turkana, Kenya
The discovery was announced at a meeting organised by Unesco. It spearheaded the project in partnership with the government and with the financial support of Japan.
Drilling technicians loading an extra drilling rod to the drilling rig, Turkana, Kenya
Environment Minister Judi Wakhungu said the aquifers hold some 250bn cubic metres of water; the country currently uses about 3bn cubic metres a year.
Community members from Nadapal village in Kakuma discuss planned drilling of wells, Kenya
The minister said the first priority was to supply water to the people of the area. "We're hoping with the two test boreholes, the water should be available within a month," she said.
A member of the refugee community at the Kakuma refugee camp watering his vegetables, Turkana, Kenya
Using the water for irrigation and industry would also be considered, Ms Wakhungu said. Massive oil deposits have also recently been discovered in Turkana.
A Turkana elder delivering his views before commencement of the drilling exercise, Kenya
The BBC's Angela Ng'endo says despite Turkana's burgeoning wealth, the region's inhabitants have always felt marginalised.
A Turkana Woman scoops water from the sandy bed of River Taraj for her goats, Kenya
The non-governmental organisation Friends of Lake Turkana is urging the government to engage more with local communities about how the water will be used in future.

Using the water for irrigation and industry would also be considered, she said.

Massive oil deposits have also recently been discovered in Turkana.

The BBC's Angela Ng'endo in the capital, Nairobi, says despite its burgeoning wealth, the region's inhabitants have always felt marginalised.

Abou Amani, Unesco's Africa hydrologist, urged caution and said it was important not to "overexploit" the aquifers.

"We need to put in place a sound management system," he said.

The head of the non-governmental organisation Friends of Lake Turkana, Ikal Anglei, said the government also needed to engage more with local communities.

"Unfortunately they're not creating forums for us to engage with them," she said.

"It is critical for governments to realise they don't… come up with programmes without community ownership… and linking it to economic development."

According to Unesco, about 17 million of Kenya's 41 million people lack access to safe water.