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Kenya turns to Saudi investor to make water drinkable in arid Turkana region

23

Global development is supported by

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Emmanuel Dayan in Lodwar

Authorities in Kenya’s driest region are in talks with a Saudi investor to build a desalination plant, after hopes of finding drinking water from an aquifer were dashed.

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Tito Ochieng, the director of water services in Turkana, in the north of the country, said the potential investor – Saudi-owned Almar Water – has already signed a deal to build a $160m (£125m) desalination plant in Mombasa.

According to Ochieng, the plant would be built on top of the Lotikipi aquifer, in the village of Nanam, and is expected to cost 5–10bn Kenyan shilling (£37.5–75m).

Ochieng said the partnership could be sealed “within a few months”. The investor is in the process of validating a business plan that would involve privatising the water and selling it to water companies, while subsidising access to water for the local population.

News of the Saudi interest followed a recent announcement by government officials that water held in an aquifer discovered six years ago was not suitable to drink.

The Lotikipi aquifer, discovered under the desert if Turkana in 2013, was estimated to hold 200bn cubic metres of water, enough to satisfy the needs of Kenya’s population for the next 70 years.

Turkana herders are driven to Uganda and Ethiopia in search of water and grazing land for their livestock. Photograph: Goran Tomašević/Reuters

Turkana herders are driven to Uganda and Ethiopia in search of water and grazing land for their livestock.

The discovery of drinkable water would have been life-changing. About 80% of people living in Turkana, Kenya’s poorest and least developed county, do not have access to 50 litres vof water a day – the amount guaranteeing “that most basic needs are met”, according to the UN.

Since 2017, repetitive droughts have driven 60,000 nomadic herders to Uganda and Ethiopia in search of water.

But a government report from 2015 showed that the water from the aquifer was too saline for human consumption, with mineral levels seven times the accepted limit. This was based on data from one of three wells.

Agatha Njuguna, a hydrogeologist at Kenya’s Water Resources Management Authority, believes the original claims about the potential of the aquifer were too hasty, and lacked the necessary analysis. The water authority is now searching for other aquifers in the region and is expected to publish its findings soon.

However, Alain Gachet, the French engineer who discovered the aquifer, said it was too early to rule out the possibility of finding fresh water in the giant aquifer. Gachet believes that exploratory drilling should continue before moving on.

Daniel Nanok, the MP for Turkana West, agreed that the aquifer might still hold pockets of fresh water, but said he believes the desalination plant is a good option for the short term.

“It is too early to say that the whole aquifer is saline, but the local populations need the water now. Desalination is not a perfect solution but the pastoralists on the ground cannot wait six more years,” Nanok said.

Read the Original Article on The Guardian

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Live Updates COVID-19 CASES
  • World 19,697,932
    World
    Confirmed: 19,697,932
    Active: 6,331,479
    Recovered: 12,639,505
    Death: 726,948
  • USA 5,118,630
    USA
    Confirmed: 5,118,630
    Active: 2,333,973
    Recovered: 2,620,124
    Death: 164,533
  • South Africa 545,476
    South Africa
    Confirmed: 545,476
    Active: 140,808
    Recovered: 394,759
    Death: 9,909
  • Nigeria 45,687
    Nigeria
    Confirmed: 45,687
    Active: 12,114
    Recovered: 32,637
    Death: 936
  • Kenya 25,837
    Kenya
    Confirmed: 25,837
    Active: 13,520
    Recovered: 11,899
    Death: 418
  • Australia 20,698
    Australia
    Confirmed: 20,698
    Active: 9,100
    Recovered: 11,320
    Death: 278
  • South Sudan 2,463
    South Sudan
    Confirmed: 2,463
    Active: 1,241
    Recovered: 1,175
    Death: 47
  • Uganda 1,267
    Uganda
    Confirmed: 1,267
    Active: 146
    Recovered: 1,115
    Death: 6
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