Drought-stricken Kenya is sitting on 250-trillion liters of groundwater

With the world as thoroughly mapped and monitored as it is, it's easy to forget the Earth still harbors its fair share of secrets. Case in point: yesterday, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization announced that Kenya's drought-striken Turkana County sits, rather ironically, atop a staggeringly huge reserve of subterranean water.

Following an extensive groundwater mapping project that incorporated satellite observations, seismic information and remote sensing, five vast aquifers have been identified hiding beneath the country's arid northern region. Preliminary estimates put the aquifers' contents at roughly 250-trillion liters of water, and UNESCO reports two of the aquifers –The Litikipi Basin Aquifer and the smaller Lodwar Basin Aquifer – have just recently been confirmed by physical drilling efforts.

UNESCO reports that the Litikipi Basin Aquifer, on its own, has the potential to "increase Kenya's strategic water reserves." The four remaining aquifers, combined with shallower reserves currently being tapped, have the potential to redefine the country's entire relationship with water. Via Radar Technologies International (RTI), the firm tapped to assist the Kenyan government in its search for water:

Overall, the RTI study found that Turkana hosts a minimum reserve of 250 billion cubic meters of water, which is recharged mainly by the rainfalls of the Kenyan and Ugandan highlands at a rate of 3.4 billion cubic meters [3.45 trillon liters] per year. This new wealth of water could boost Kenya's share of available water by 17% and alone represents nearly double the amount of water that Kenyans consume today. This groundwater raises the prospect for improving the livelihoods of the Turkana people, most of whom live in poverty and have limited access to basic services and clean water.

The next step, according to UNESCO, is to quantify the aquifers' contents more definitively, and assess their water quality. For now, though, people sound optimistic that the aquifers could bring safe water to Kenya's 41-million-person population, 17 million of which lacking access to safe water and 28 million of which do not have adequate sanitation.

“The news about these water reserves comes at a time when reliable water supplies are highly needed," said Judi Wakhungu, Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources at a UNESCO meeting on water security, held yesterday. She continued, highlighting the importance of protecting the resource and preserving it for those who need it most:

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. We must now work to further explore these resources responsibly and safeguard them for future generations.

Read more at UNESCO and RTI.