Satellite imagery and seismic data have identified two huge underground aquifers in Kenya's drought-prone north, a discovery that could be "a game changer" for the country, NPR's Gregory Warner reports.
The aquifers, located hundreds of feet underground in the Turkana region that borders Ethiopia and South Sudan, contain billions of gallons of water, according to UNESCO, which confirmed the existence of the subterranean lakes discovered with the help of a French company using technology originally designed to reveal oil deposits.
The Lotikipi Basin Aquifer is located west of Lake Turkana, the world's largest permanent desert lake, which nonetheless contains alkaline and unpalatable water. The second discovery is the smaller Lodwar Basin Aquifer.
"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," said Judi Wakhungu, Cabinet secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources. "We must now work to further explore these resources responsibly and safeguard them for future generations," she said.
"If we use the water sustainably, when it comes to water resources we become very secure," Wakhungu said.
UNESCO says 40 percent of Kenya's 41 million people lack access to safe water, and 28 million do not have adequate sanitation.
NPR's Warner says the subterranean lakes, shaped as scientists describe like a short stack of "interconnected pancakes," are naturally replenished by mountain rain.
"But getting the water to the people could be a challenge," he says. "Turkana is the least developed region of Kenya, just south of a disputed border region and scene of frequent deadly tribal clashes."