Small towns in fragile environments

The challenge

Lodwar is a small town in Turkana County, Kenya, with high poverty rates, a low level of piped water services, rapid population growth, and increasing climate variability with uncertain impacts on water resources. Similar problems are faced by many Kenyan and African small towns including Wukro in Ethiopia. In arid and semi-arid lands with growing populations, understanding the current and future status of available water resources is vital for development.

The observatory

We are studying hydro-climatic variability in the Turkwel River system and how that interacts with bulk water demand and allocation regimes (hydro-electric, industry, agriculture) which determine water flowing to Lodwar town and Lake Turkana. Groundwater resources are also influenced by rainfall and river flows in the Napu aquifer near Lodwar which is becoming an increasingly important resource in times of drought. Better knowledge of rainfall variability is needed to ensure the growing demands of the Turkwel River are met sustainably and benefit the poor.

This observatory also aims to reduce inequalities in drinking water services and ensure that investments reach the poor. Our research will help Lodwar respond to converging issues of water variability, demographic growth, poor infrastructure and financial sustainability to ensure inclusive water services for all.

Research questions

  1. Which metrics for rainfall variability can be formulated from future projections, and which of these metrics will be most useful to government, investors and rural water users?
  2. How do rainfall and run-off regimes affect recharge processes for groundwater supplies for Lodwar town?
  3. What are the processes and practices which reduce inequalities in drinking water services for the poor in Lodwar town?

News and blog

Coping with water scarcity in the Turkwel river basin, Kenya, October 2018
Living and thriving under the glare of the Turkana sun, February 2018
Governing water and knowledge in Turkana, Kenya, October 2017


Korzenevica, M. (2019). Emerging themes on considering water equity. REACH Research Brief, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

Olago, D. (2018). Constraints and solutions for groundwater development, supply and governance in urban areas in Kenya. Hydrogeology Journal.

Hirpa, F. A., Dyer, E., Hope, R., Olago, D. O., Dadson, S.J. (2018). Finding sustainable water futures in data-sparse regions under climate change: Insights from the Turkwel River basin, Kenya. Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies, 19:124-135.

Haines, S., Imana, C. A., Opondo, M., Ouma, G. and Rayner, S. (2017) Weather and climate knowledge for water security: Institutional roles and relationships in Turkana. REACH Working Paper 4, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.

REACH (2015) Country Diagnostic Report, Kenya. REACH Working Paper 3, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

Research team

IWA: Martha Jepkirui

UNICEF: Dr Andrew Trevett

University of Nairobi:  Charles Odira Maxwell, Professor Albert Mumma, Dr Daniel Olago, Dr Maggie Opondo, Dr Gilbert Ouma, Florence Jerotich Tanui

University of Oxford:  Dr Simon Dadson, Dr Ellen Dyer, Dr Sophie Haines, Dr Rob Hope, Dr Sonia Ferdous Hoque, Professor Steve Rayner, Michael Rouse CBE, Professor Richard Washington


Dr Daniel Olago, University of Nairobi

‘We’re working closely with UNICEF in Kenya to build water secure institutions in rural areas and to develop robust and sustainable utilities in small towns to potentially benefit tens of millions of Africans.’

© 2020 REACH