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How Groundwater Can Alleviate Drought in the Horn of Africa

By Mohamud Elmi

Unknown aquifers may have a prompt answer to the frequent droughts which decimate large number of animal populations and significantly affect the livelihoods of many in the region. The large aquifers recently discovered in northern Kenya - Turkana County validates this statement. The Lotikibi Basin Aquifer which has been estimated to be roughly the size of Rhode Island or half the size of Belgium was unknown until recently. This underground lake covering an area of 4,146km²  that holds 200,000,000,000 m³ (Two hundred billion cubic meters) volumes of water, which is equivalent to twice the size of Lake Leman in Switzerland. These large reserves of groundwater could potentially stop Kenya’s thirst for generations. As a result of all of this survey, the estimated total renewable groundwater resources storage of northern- central Turkana is 247 billion m³ for a total recharge capacity of 3.42 billion m³ per year which represent 1.38% of the total storage quantities.

A study area covering a zone of 36,000 km² in northern and central Turkana County, Rift Valley Province was selected officially by the Government of Kenya (Ministry of Water and Irrigation) on 24 May 2012. The southern boundary of the area is at 2.7°N latitude, while its eastern boundary is west of Lake Turkana at 35.8°E. The south-western boundary is situated along the Uganda border, with a small coverage into Ugandan territory in order to account for critical watershed zones originating there. The north-western boundary follows Kenya’s border with South Sudan. The area’s northern boundary follows at 4.6°N latitude at the “Maud Line” of the Ilemi Triangle.


The three main towns are Lokichoggio in the North-West near the border of South Sudan, Lodwar in the South-East corner of the survey area, along the Turkwel River, and the town of Kakuma, which has grown to become one of the most populated areas due to a massive influx of refugees from neighboring countries, with a total of almost 500 000 persons. A good asphalt road stretches from Lodwar to Kakuma and Lokichoggio along a distance of 280 km. Kakuma which is located at about 590 km northwest of Nairobi, it takes a two day drive through a dust road to reach. Turkana County is Kenya’s most arid region and environmental experts believe that the discovery of the aquifer in the region must directly benefit the County’s mostly nomad community.


Another aquifer was found in Namibia – the continent’s driest country.

Since 2007, the German-Namibian Technical Cooperation project “Groundwater for the North of Namibia” is aimed to support groundwater management purposes for groundwater systems of the Cuvelai-Etosha Basin. The technical cooperation project is carried out by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) and BGR. It is referred to as the DWA-BGR Project in this text. The Cuvelai-Etosha Basin (CEB) is a huge sedimentary system located in southern Angola and northern Namibia, it spans about 165.000 square kilometres. The Etosha Pan, as the primary depression and collector for surface water is the topographic center of the CEB. What is happening some parts of Africa is a wake up call, many are in need of water but still lack access to the large aquifers that lie beneath their feet. I hope Somalia, Chad, Ethiopia will be among the next countries that will research and announce the exact figures of their groundwater resources in the future. There is currently an ongoing process to unlock the huge groundwater resources in Ethiopia.


The “Drilling Handbook of the Eastern Ogaden Basin” in Somali Ogaden Region of Ethiopia is a guide for drillers responsible for providing groundwater to local communities. All updated findings have been recorded in the “GENS” Navigation system delivered on user friendly Ipads to the driller’s team, allowing drilling in rough field conditions, obviating the need for maps. All the maps exposed in the drilling handbook are extracted from the WATEX image recorded in the navigation system. The conception of this drilling handbook is in the continuation of the former “Drilling Handbook of the Fafem-Jerer” in Somali Region, with hydro-geologic results linked to the present project.


5 years ago in 2012, continent-wide research conducted by the British Geographical Society found that Africa has huge reserves of groundwater – perhaps 100 times more groundwater than water in lakes, dams and rivers. Despite the apparent abundance, researchers warned that these under exploited water reserves were insufficient to spur any kind of green revolution, as irrigation would suck the aquifers dry before they could refill themselves naturally. It is said that 64% of Africa’s land mass is covered by trans-boundary aquifers and most of them are undiscovered properly. 

Experience and Innovation    

Dr. Alain Gachet   founded RTI (Radar Technology International) in 1996 after spending years leading discovery efforts for multinational oil and gas companies. Dr. Gachet began experimenting with Geo- Scanner technology in 1999 while exploring structure linked to the genesis of gold and other base metals in the Republic of Congo. There, he utilized the technology to penetrate the rainforest canopy and reveal geological features beneath the ground’s surface. RTI’s proprietary WATEX System prospects and explores sub- surface water, soil and geology. The system enables and supports effective hydro geological investigation within optimal certainty and is the result of years of research and development. WATEX produces groundwater target maps designed to assist decision-makers, policy makers and drillers initiate large scale water development and management projects. The map provides regional views of water resources identify shallow and deep-water aquifers and have the ability to increase drilling success rates within 75% and 95%.

In 2004, the Darfur crisis displaced 250,00 refugee in Chad and forced them into camps with another 2 million people displaced in Sudan. Working with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), RTI found enough water within four months to sustain the refugee camps in Chad and subsequently received funding to continue working in Sudan. There, Dr, Gachet and his team discovered enough water to support 3 million people.

Years later, Dr. Gachet and his team accurately detected the source and direction of water leakage in Libya’s Great Man-Made River, which sparked an effort to hone the technology’s use for the direction of aquifers. With a renewed sense of urgency to locate underground water, Dr. Gachet harnessed his decades of traditional oil and gas exploration experience to begin developing RTI’s patented water exploration and discovery system, WATEX™ RTI’s US counterpart is working to locate untapped water resources in the state of Taxes. Today, RTI’s is prepared to assist drillers in finding water using its patented WATEX™ maps and Groundwater Exploration Navigation Systems (GENS).

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