UNESCO and the Kenya Government today announce the discovery of one of the worlds largest underground water aquifers in the desert north of Turkana, an area best known for fossils, famine and poverty. The finding by Radar Technologies International (RTI) was made using space based exploration technology called WATEX system. The largest aquifer at 250 billion cubic meters of water which is equivalent in volume to Lake Turkana one of the largest lakes in the Great Rift Valley, and 25 times greater than Loch Ness. More importantly the annual recharge rate, the amount of water that can be sustainably exploited per year, is estimated to 3.4 billion cubic meters, nearly three times the water use in the New York City.
The man behind the RTI is the energetic white haired French Alain Gachet who says the worst thing he has ever seen in his life is people dying of thirst.
"This discovery will transform Turkana. 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 go the past".
For Turkana where malnutrition rates can be as high as 37%, this discovery Is better than oil. It is an opportunity for local development.
Ikal Angelei is the Director of Friends of Lake Turkana, an organzation that champions the rights of the Lake's communities and ensure their involvement in decision-making on issues relating to the Lake and its environment.
"This is an extremely exciting find for my community. 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."
Many will celebrate that the immediate benefit of this find will be no more famine for a community that has suffered repeated droughts. Kenyans are still haunted by images of starving children in 2009/10 during the worst drought in over 60 years that affected more than 10 million people in the Horn of Africa.
Richard Leakey, Chairman of the Turkana Basin Institute is not surprised with the find.
"This discovery confirms what we have always believed. 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"
[Skull of an antelope in the african drought via Shutterstock.com]