Potential significance of discovery cannot be overstated

Martin Geissler

Former ITV News Correspondent

Water comes out of a pipe in Lotikipi. Credit: ITV News

At first glance it is an unremarkable spectacle, a couple of feet of oily steel pipe sticking out of a scorched African plain. But the potential significance of the borehole we were shown at Lokitipi in Northern Kenya can't be overstated.

Scientists have found water here. Lots of water. Enough, in fact, to meet all of Kenya's needs for well over half a century. It's clean and it's accessible. In a country regularly blighted by drought, that's a momentous discovery.

Last night, in a hotel in Nairobi, I pored over charts of the area with Alain Gachet, the charismatic Frenchman who made the discovery. "This is a game-changer for all the countries in this region", he told me, "I'm going to make them rich!".

They are big words, but his excitement is infectious and understandable. Monsieur Gachet believes similar underground water reserves lie beneath much of Africa. He has the technology, he says, to find them and tap them.

The amount of water found could meet Kenya's needs for decades. Credit: ITV News

On the face of it, his system is remarkable only in it's simplicity. He takes existing satellite, radar and geological maps of the area and layers them on top of each other to crate one all-encompassing study of what lies beneath the soil.

An oil man by trade, he used the technique to pinpoint mineral reserves across Africa, now he's applying the same technology to find water. And to most Africans that's far more valuable than any oil or gold he could locate.

It is hoped this discovery will help end Kenya's water woes. Credit: ITV News

You could be forgiven, at this point, for thinking this all sounds too good to be true. How many times, after all, have we heard of "African breakthroughs" which come to nothing? The key here, as ever, is in good management.

If the Kenyan government can embrace this system, fund the drilling and maintain the infrastructure there's no reason this couldn't change millions of lives for the better.

Tribespeople who walk for days in search of rain could irrigate their land, settle and farm with the new system. Credit: ITV News

Tribespeople who walk for days in search of rain could irrigate their land, settle and farm. Towns could build up around lush new pasture. A scorched, largely forgotten corner of Kenya could be transformed. And that could just be the start.

Of course there will be predators out there. Companies and countries eager to buy up swathes of fertile land for their own selfish interests but Kenya is now run by a technocrat government, the ministries led by experts in each field rather than "get rich quick" politicians.

Most Kenyans believe their country is on the up at last and the corruption which could have blighted this scheme in the past is on the wane.

Most Kenyans believe their country is on the up at last Credit: ITV News

UNESCO, the United Nations' scientific wing, have certainly embraced the system. They're preparing to use the technology to search for new water under the soil of Kenya's neighbours, too. They are, quietly, very excited by what's happening. Carefully worded briefing documents insist "the system's potential can't be over stated".

These are exciting times for this region. The start of something special? Well, let's hope so, we'd all drink to that!