Aquifers to provide clean water for Turkana, Kenya

16.4 million people living in Kenya do not have access to clean water.

Over 10,000 children die every year from diarrhea caused by consuming unsafe water.

But help is on the way.

On Sept. 11, satellites discovered five large aquifers in the desert region of Turkana in northern Kenya. The aquifers are deep enough to provide the Kenyan people clean water for at least 70 years.

Professor of Geology Dave Dobson explains that aquifers are porous layers of rock that people can tap for fresh water.

One of the aquifers, the Lotikipi, is estimated to be the size of Rhode Island, according to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the agency currently conducting underground drilling at the site.

Access to this clean drinking water would be a huge breakthrough for the Turkana people, who have survived without significant rainfall for over five years.

“(The new water source is) more important than oil,” said Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Edwins Gwako.

Gwako holds that the increased availability of clean drinking water will provide new opportunities for the Turkana people.

“Economically, there is potential,” Gwako said. “They can have irrigation, grow pasture, and have fish farms, agriculture and livestock.”

In the past, the lack of clean water resources and shortage of rainwater have proved to be a deadly combination for Kenyan farmers.

“Every year, our livestock die from lack of water and pasture,” Turkana farmer Zakayo Ekeno told New Partnership for Africa’s Development Water Centers of Excellence.

Greater access to clean water will provide promising opportunities to improve irrigation in the area.

But most importantly, many argue, are the effects of the discovery on the lives of Turkana children.

According to UNICEF, in 2009, 81 percent of children in Turkana who should have been undergoing early childhood development education were not enrolled in school.

“It is very beneficial for the children, because they will spend less time looking around for water,” Gwako said.

With a minimized search for water, Kenyan children could see more time in school.

But while the possible outcomes of harnessing the water are overwhelmingly positive, many point to the challenges in unlocking the potential of the aquifers.

In a Bloomberg Businessweek article, “New Water Source Won’t Quench the World’s Thirst,” Charles Kenny criticizes the hope many have for the new aquifers.

“(The challenge is) improving the infrastructure for quality networked supply, by digging trenches, laying pipes and building water and sewage treatment plants — which is expensive and difficult,” Kenny said.

The infrastructure is a real concern for the Turkana region, which has been struggling in abject poverty.

However, the Kenyan government and UNESCO have showed great commitment to this project.

“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,” Judi Wakhungu, cabinet secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources told The New York Times. “We must now work to further explore these resources responsibly and safeguard them for future generations.”