A New Mapping Program Could Provide Access to New Water Sources in Kenya

Only 5 percent of the nation’s groundwater resources have been documented by its water regulation agencies.
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Nov 30, 2015· 1 MIN READ
David McNair is an award-winning reporter and editor based in Charlottesville, Va. He runs the hyper-local news site The DTM and his fiction has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review.

A new groundwater mapping program in Kenya could provide relief to farmers and communities in the drought-plagued country. Two decades ago, water flowed freely from rivers into irrigation canals, allowing farmers to grow an abundance of rice. But after a prolonged drought in 2000 drastically lowered river levels, many farmers had to abandon rice, switching to crops that needed less water, such as tomatoes and beans, and digging wells to get the water they needed.

However, after the drought that struck in 2004, even the wells began to dry up.

“It was so bad I had to sink a deeper well, this time 75 foot deep, and even then the water was only enough to support farming on a quarter acre of land,” local farmer George Kinyua told Reuters.

As farmers dug deeper and deeper wells to access the water needed, a problem soon emerged: There was no reliable information about where the groundwater was located or how much of it existed.

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According to UNESCO for Eastern Africa, only about 5 percent of Kenya’s groundwater resources have been documented by its water regulation agencies.

To correct that situation, UNESCO and Kenya’s water ministry teamed up to create the Kenya Groundwater Mapping Program this year. The program will collect data on aquifers all over the country, noting their locations, capacity, and dynamics, making it easier for people to find water when a drought hits. A 2013 study by UNESCO in northern Kenya uncovered two aquifers believed to contain 250 billion cubic meters of water, and more reserves are expected to be found by mapping all 47 of Kenya’s counties. The program will also include training water agency staff to locate, manage, and record data about groundwater resources using GPS technology. Furthermore, the program will look at the bigger picture: how using groundwater will affect communities, individuals, farmers, and nature.

“The initiative will strengthen drought preparedness at both local and national levels with the aim of facilitating improved access to clean drinking water for emergency situations and long-term needs,” said a UNESCO official.

For Kinyua, a lot depends on finding access to sufficient amounts of groundwater, including the future of his farm and the stability of his community. He told Reuters the police are often called because of conflicts between farmers over access to limited supplies of water, and, he said, “things seem to be getting worse.”

“At first canal water became inadequate and I accepted that river volumes can indeed reduce during dry seasons,” he said. “But if wells too cannot save the situation, then we are doomed.”