Quantifying increased groundwater demand from prolonged drought in the East African Rift Valley

Evan A. Thomas, Joseph Needoba, Doris Kaberia, John Butterworth, Emily C. Adams, Phoebe Oduor, Denis Macharia, Faith Mitheu, Robinson Mugo, Corey Nagel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Millions of people in the arid regions of Kenya and Ethiopia face water scarcity and frequent drought. Water resource forecasting and reliable operation of groundwater distribution systems may improve drought resilience. In this study, we examined three remote sensing data sets against in-situ sensor-collected groundwater extraction data from 221 water points serving over 1.34 million people across northern Kenya and Afar, Ethiopia between January 1, 2017 and August 31, 2018. In models containing rainfall as a binary variable, we observed an overall 23% increase in borehole runtime following weeks with no rainfall compared to weeks preceded by some rainfall. Further, a 1 mm increase in rainfall was associated with a 1% decrease in borehole use the following week. When surface water availability is reduced during the dry seasons, groundwater demand increases. Our findings emphasize the imperative to maintain functionality of groundwater boreholes in these regions which often suffer drought related emergencies. Funding provided by the United States Agency for International Development, the World Bank, the National Science Foundation, and the Cisco Foundation. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Agency for International Development or the United States Government.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1265-1272
Number of pages8
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - May 20 2019


  • Drought
  • Ethiopia
  • Groundwater
  • Kenya
  • Remote monitoring
  • Sensors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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