Communities in Laikipia are using Y shaped sticks and metal rods to detect underground water, a simple technology that is cushioning them from lack of water during dry spells. The water locating technology commonly known as water dowsing or water witching is based on the fact that despite limited rainfall in dry land areas like Laikipia, water is generally available in aquifers underground.
Depending on the geology, the nature of the rocks and soil, and the climate of the area, water may occur at depths ranging from just a few metres to several hundred meters. And although the process has been a bone of contention with scientists arguing that the practice cannot be verified to a logical conclusion, the locals say they have long relied on it during drought to water their crops and feed their livestock.
While searching for the underground water, they hold the sticks or metal rods in their hands at about chest level. When they walk over an area of land that covers an underground water source,the metal rods cross each other to form an "X" or incase of the sticks, bend downwards. According to the water dowsers, an electric current travels from the underground water, through a person's body, and then affects the metal rods.
Egyptians and Red Indians discovered this technology over 1,000 years ago which historians say they relied on to get water for their livestock when dry spells occurred. George Wahome is among those who are able to detect the underground water. According to him, the art cannot be done by just anyone. “Not that you need any skills. Its just that there are some people who will naturally be able to spot the water while others wont. And some of us who get that rare gift earn a living from assisting our local community members,”he said.
The farmers in Laikipia have relied on the services of water dowsers like Wahome when science have failed. They say they have dug boreholes in many places where even engineers thought there was no water. “I grow my beans and maize from the borehole water that is in the middle of my shamba. I never knew water existed there until I consulted the services of Wahome,”said Mercy Kang'iri a farmer.
Wahome claims he has sunk over 200 wells with 80 percent being successful through the dowsing process. But agricultural scientists like Dr. Joseph Ekale while not entirely dismissing the practice say it cannot be relied exclusively to determine water levels since it defies the science of gravity and physics. “You cant tell us that you can find water but you cant explain how. That is not how science works which is why we are still sceptical about it,”said Dr Michael Oduor.
But the practice which is equally common in Ukambani area has its fair share of followers globally with the debate being as varied as its followers. According to the American Society of Dowsers, an association that champions for widespread adoption of water dosing, there are over 1 million Americans, majority farmers who rely on water dowsing to access water they would traditionally not have.