The Turkana region in Kenya is not the type of place that would come to mind when picturing a wellspring bursting with water.
The area is dry and desolate. It is one of the most arid regions on this planet, with soaring temperatures that burn the earth and suck out moisture. The local people are nomads and follow water to survive. They and their livestock are often plagued by famine, thirst, and poverty.
But last month, surprising news came from this oft-ignored part of the world: Below their feet, below the land that is so parched, flowed water in an aquifer that was so large, it would be able to quench the thirst of the country’s 41 million people for the next 70 years.
Officials like Judi Wakhungu, Kenya’s secretary for the environment and natural resources, touted the find as a possible solution to the region’s humanitarian and socioeconomic problems.
But is it?
“Lots of studies need to be done [to determine the sustainability of the water],” said Saud Amer, a remote sensing and water resources specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and a member of the team that found the aquifer.
“Without studies, if people start digging wells, it’s like you have a car and you have gas in it but you don’t know how much,” he said. “When will the car stop? You don’t know.
“People had to go kilometers, 50 or 60 kilometers [31 to 37 miles], to get water,” continued Amer. “There is no agriculture in the area. We have to figure out the replenishment rate and whether the water is good for agriculture and the type of agriculture [before allowing the aquifer to be accessed].”
Water experts warn that, around the world, many aquifers are being depleted much faster than they can be “recharged,” or refilled with water from natural sources, such as a stream or rainwater.