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AU researchers help Kenyans find water themselves

Kenyans are learning to use special equipment and interpret data so that they can find water underground. A group of researchers from Aarhus University spent three weeks in Kenya training the local population to use the equipment.

Water is a scarce resource in many places in Africa; extremely scarce. In the Kakuma refugee camp, each resident has access to as little as 7 litres of water a day; the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) recommends a minimum of 20 litres.

"When people in Kenya look for water, they usually take a hit-and-miss approach. Or they rely on old, cumbersome and imprecise methods. This means they often drill in vain or only hit very small water aquifers," says Denys Grombacher, an assistant professor at the Department of Geoscience at Aarhus University.

He has just returned after three weeks in Kenya. Together with colleagues and collaboration partners, he trained the local population to use a special tool to map underground water resources.

"My colleagues and I have helped people find water in many places around the world, but this time it’s different because we’re teaching the local population to find the water themselves. We train them in use of the tool and how to interpret the data, so that they can identify the right places to drill for water," explains Denys Grombacher.

The Kenyans were trained to use the so-called tTEM (towed Transient Electromagnetic) tool. The tool can identify groundwater aquifers up to 120 metres below the surface. The tool was developed by researchers from the HydroGeophysics Group at the Department of Geoscience at Aarhus University.

The equipment can fit into two large suitcases, and can be towed by an all-terrain quad motorcycle, a moped or even an ox or a donkey. It is therefore suitable for finding water in developing countries with a strong need for water but weak financial resources.

Advanced tool can be operated by non-researchers

The researchers have helped people locate water resources in several countries in Africa and in India. However, this is the first time they have trained people with no research background in the use of the equipment.

"The people we trained were from the local water sector, and they normally work with water pipes, water treatment and similar. We spent a couple of weeks training them to find water using our tool. They practiced using the tool and interpreting the data and they can now find water on their own," says Denys Grombacher and elaborates:

"The people we just taught to use the tool haven't started drilling yet, but we taught people in Togo about the tool last year, and  they’ve already successfully drilled their first boreholes. Right now, they’re building a distribution network and a water treatment plant so that they can supply clean drinking water to cities from the new boreholes."

They are also ready to make new water wells in Kenya, strengthen the distribution network and ensure water quality. The Poul Due Jensen Foundation has donated the tTEM equipment for the project, which means the Kenyans can continue to expand their water supply for the local population and the Kakuma refugee camp.

There is no guarantee you will find water when you use the tTEM method, but the probability of finding water is significantly higher. You will strike water in 85 out of 100 places if you use the tTEM method as opposed to only 50 out of 100 using old methods.

Training in the use of tTEM will continue in the coming years. Introductory courses and advanced training for employees in the Kenyan water sector have been planned for 2024 and 2025. This work will be financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark via the Danish Embassy in Kenya. The training aligns well with development projects in the water area supported by Danida and the Grundfos Foundation, the declared goal of which is to ensure more drinking water for the people of the Turkana region in the coming years.


Assistant professor Denys Grombacher
Department of Geoscience
Aarhus University
E-mail: denys.grombacher@geo.au.dk