Groundwater reserves found in Northern Kenya in exploration initiative

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NAIROBI, KENYA, Sept. 16, 2013 -- Two strategic groundwater reserves were recently identified in Turkana County in Northern Kenya, as a result of an exploration mapping project, GRIDMAP (Groundwater Resources Investigation for Drought Mitigation in Africa Programme), spearheaded by UNESCO in partnership with the government of Kenya and with the financial support of the Government of Japan.

The findings were announced at the opening of an international water security conference in Nairobi, Kenya, on Wednesday, Sept. 11. The two aquifers -- the Lotikipi Basin Aquifer and the Lodwar Basin Aquifer -- were identified using advanced satellite exploration technology. Their existence was then confirmed by drilling conducted recently by UNESCO, but there is need for further studies to adequately quantify the reserves and to assess the quality of the water. The technology combines remote sensing, seismic and conventional groundwater information to explore and map groundwater occurrence over large areas in short periods of time.

The Lotikipi Basin Aquifer is located west of Lake Turkana, the world's largest permanent desert lake. On its own, Lotikipi could potentially increase Kenya's strategic water reserves. The smaller Lodwar Basin Aquifer could serve as a strategic reserve for the development of Lodwar, the capital of Turkana County, provided the reserve is confirmed.

Three additional aquifers have also been identified in other parts of Turkana but have not yet been confirmed by drilling and would also need to be assessed using complementary techniques.  More research will need to be done to enable a more accurate assessment of the aquifers and their potential contribution to Kenya's economic development.

Announcing the findings during the opening session of the UNESCO Strategic and High-Level Meeting on Water Security and Cooperation, Judi Wakhungu, cabinet secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, said that the results were a critical scientific breakthrough for the country. "The news about these water reserves comes at a time when reliable water supplies are highly needed. 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."

Stressing Kenya's vulnerability and water insecurity caused by erratic rainfall patterns and the influence of climate change, Judi Wakhungu said more research and investment were now needed to identify and understand groundwater aquifers and improve capacity for monitoring and assessment of these resources.

Of Kenya's 41 million strong population, 17 million lack access to safe water, and 28 million do not have adequate sanitation.

"UNESCO is proud to be a part of this important finding, which clearly demonstrates how science and technology can contribute to industrialization and economic growth, and to resolving real societal issues like access to water," said  UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, Gretchen Kalonji. "It is indeed in line with UNESCO's vision for science for sustainable development and we will continue to support Africa to unlock the full potential of its invisible water wealth."

The Government of Kenya also announced the launch of a national groundwater mapping program that would be implemented with UNESCO, which would assist county governments in identifying and assessing their groundwater resources.

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