Merti aquifer: Kenya’s largest water source faced with resistance

By Peter Mutai NAIROBI (Xinhua) —Wajir town in Northern Kenya has never had a regular water supply system forcing majority of the residents to use water drawn directly from shallow wells that exposes them to many potentially harmful elements.

Efforts by the government and donors to help provide clean water to the residents of Wajir is facing opposition from the local communities even after a Netherland’s organization ORIO has submitted a grant of 13.3 million euros for the feasibility study.

“The project is unknown to the local residents and they are very worried about the salinity of the water and the fact that the water is set to benefit warring clans too,” Sarah Ogalleh, a researcher with the Center for Training and Integrated Research in ASAL Development (CETRAD) said on Wednesday in Nairobi.

Ogalleh who was releasing social survey results recommends that for the project to succeed and help save communities in the dry region that has been hit four times with severe drought in the last 10 years local leaders must be involved to change their perception.

According to Engineer Alex Kagunda from the Ministry of Devolution and National Planning department of Arid and Semi Arid Lands (ASAL), the government has proposed the construction of a 100 km pipeline to supply drinking water to Wajir town with water drawn from the Merti aquifer at Habaswein.

He revealed that the government has committed to contribute the remaining 24.5 million euros towards the completion of phase two of the project.

He noted that the Kenya Vision 2030 sector plan for environment, water and sanitation 2008-2012, identified Wajir town as one of the 15 towns that have potential to support manufacturing and tourism.

“The plan therefore proposed that efforts be made to increase water supply and sanitation coverage in the town,” he added.

However concerns have been raised about the financial risks, sustainable use and the effects that the extraction of the water will have on the water security of the people currently using the Merti aquifer.

Consequently, the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) underground water experts who have been undertaking research to look into these concerns supports the views expressed by local communities.

“The unknown rate of risk in Africa is to blame for poor investor’s interest in investing in the continent,” ICRAF’s Dryland Scientist Dr. Jan de Leeuw revealed.

Leeuw observed that the uncertainties need to be addressed with the involvement of the local people whose contribution in sustaining the project is needed.

He noted that a number of projects have not benefited the local populations because their views on their viability has not been incorporated.

“The need for investment decisions necessitates the research to help tap resources in the arid lands of Kenya,” ICRAF’s Deputy Director for Research Ravi Prabhu said.

Prabhu noted that due to climate variability and its impact on natural resource and conflict it generates, the idea will be shared out with other arid regions in the continent.

“Ground water is a treasure in Africa but its economic analysis is lacking to help involve private sector,” Leeuw noted.

Leeuw revealed that vertically, the water depth is approximately 100 meters with known aquifer thickness of 20 – 80 meters with a possible thickness of 300 – 400 meters deep.

“Fresh water is currently abstracted in Habaswein, this much is certain but the quality of saline underneath fresh water is unknown,” he noted.

Quality is decreasing in some boreholes, so saline water is expected to exist underneath fresh water.

He suggested that the depth of fresh saline boundary need to be established before implementation of phase two of the project.

According to Dr. Eike Luedeling, ICRAF’s Senior scientist and Decision Analyst, decisions must be made to help develop strategies for making the best possible decisions under uncertainty.

“There is need to construct impact models for a decision and identify all uncertain variables for a range of likely outcomes,” he observed.

Once accepted by the local community and the government honor its pledge, the project is expected to help reduced infant mortality, reduced costs for disease treatment, create jobs attracts investments, reduced brain drain and increase taxes.

But experts noted that given the current state of uncertainty, the project is very risky and the inclusion of stakeholders concern is important in benefit sharing.

They noted that targeted measurements, careful project design and a dedicated monitoring system will be essential for making this project a success.

In the Wajir district, 96 percent of the population does not have access to clean drinking water. The town has no conventional water supply system, making the vast majority of the population dependent on saline and hard water abstracted from shallow wells in the area.

Water supply issues in this rural area pertain both to clean drinking water for the population as well as water for cattle.

Once the project that is set to become the second water aquifer in Kenya after Turkana is complete, the potable water will be made available by pumping groundwater from the Merti aquifer which is approximately 110 km from Wajir.

This water will be distributed to Wajir, Habaswein and Lagbogol. The potable water is meant as drinking water for inhabitants of these towns.

Brackish water, in the form of wells, will also be provided and is meant for cattle and as back-up in periods of drought when the potable water is not sufficient for the inhabitants of Wajir, Habaswein and Lagbogol.

“We have to engage with the communities to accept the project since it has been proved to be viable,” Wajir County Minister for Water Engineer Yusuf Gedi revealed.

source: accessed 07.07.2015

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