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A map of subterranean lakes could cut Kenya's water prices

Water collection might be easier with the help of remote sensing technology. Photo: <a href="">Jill Morehead (Mercy Corps)</a>
Water collection might be easier with the help of remote sensing technology. Photo: Jill Morehead (Mercy Corps)

Kenya has invisible lakes beneath its surface—an estimated 60 billion cubic metres of underground water. A new project intends to tap that untouched source to fight thirst and drought.

The eight-month pilot, coordinated by UNESCO, will map groundwater resources in part of the drought-prone Horn of Africa. The publicly funded project, launched May 22 in Nairobi, Kenya, marks the first venture of the regional Ground Water Resources Investigation for Drought Mitigation in Africa Programme (GRIDMAP), also a UNESCO initiative. By focusing on long-term preparedness and accessing groundwater sources through wells, the project helps vulnerable populations with emergency and ongoing water needs.

Using remote sensing technology, the survey will explore underground water to establish its quantity and quality, and develop ways to manage the water to combat drought and famine. The project aims to use scientific knowledge to inform water policies and help with disaster preparedness. Under the initiative, local and national scientists will be trained on managing groundwater to drive down water prices and mitigate the impact of droughts on poor communities.

Water ministries from Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia fund the project, which has also received $1.55 million from Japan's government for surveying Turkana, an arid area in northern Kenya.

The New York Times’ Alan MacDonald writes that the main constraint on supplying safe drinking water is up-front financing: “If there is sufficient investment in investigating groundwater, and water wells are carefully sited, it is usually possible to drill a well that can provide enough safe water for communities at a reasonable cost."

Newfound knowledge of the availability, quality and quantity of water resources will help private companies drill wells exactly like that.

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