Wednesday, 20 June 2012

GfGD Blog Competition (Runner Up): Successes Of Geoscience In Development

A runner-up in the GfGD Blog Competition, Hudson Wereh Shiraku gives an interesting overview of the many ways in which geoscience can, and has, made a positive contribution to the lives of communities around the world. Hudson is based in the Environmental Sciences Department at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya.

As a prefix, geo is derived from a Greek word which loosely translates to “earth” usually in the sense of ground or land. Geosciences would therefore include all sciences that deal with the earth and to this end, the list is long – geology, mineralogy, paleontology, stratigraphy etc.

Talking of how geosciences, used in the context of development has brought about positive and sustainable change, the earth is the foundation upon which development depends. Development is either driven by resources from the earth or by land as a resource like in the case of agriculture. Success of a development process and sustainability of the same requires meticulous intervention of a geoscientist to define the balance between society’s demand for these resources, their sustainable use and need to sustain healthy ecosystems.

Success stories of how geosciences have played a fundamental role in development dates back to many years ago. In the early 1930s, a small village in western Kenya was the scene of a gold rush fueled partly by the reports of the geologist Albert Ernest Kitson. In its place now, we have a beautiful town called Kakamega which is the economic hub of the region. Elsewhere, gold has transformed South Africa and its commercial hub Egoli – the city of gold to a heaven for gold diggers and investors to its undisputed status as the continental economic heavy weight – thanks to geoscientists.

Water has brought happiness to these women (Hudson Wereh Shiraku)
If there is no water due to drought, children will miss school because they must help their mothers to fetch water. One can only imagine what implication this has to development but thanks to hydrologists, children from a village in Maralal in Northern Kenya won’t miss school again for this reason. Under the auspices of an international non-government organization (NGO), this class of geoscientists has worked tirelessly to indentify underground water sources and avail water to local communities.

Courtesy of geoscientists, Kenya is tapping into geothermal energy and generating electricity. With the potential of 2000 MW, there is a total of 127 MW installed capacity and the plant meets 11% of the total national electricity supply (MoE, 2008). As a result, geothermal use in Kenya has led to significant socio-economic benefits for the country; a workforce of 493 persons is deployed at the Olkaria power stations considerably contributing to poverty reduction. In Naivasha, a geothermal heat resource is being used in a horticultural farm to control night-time humidity levels in order to reduce the incidence of fungal diseases – a successful instance where Geoscience has drawn from other fields to create a positive change.

Away from home, geothermal power has also been successfully exploited in northern African countries, using geothermal fluid for irrigation of oases as well as heating and irrigation of greenhouses. 

In Israel, the fact that agricultural production continues to grow despite severe water and land limitations is no accident. It is due to a close and ongoing cooperation between researchers, extension workers, farmers and agriculture-related services and industries. Geoscience has been tapped into by agriculture to ensure availability of water and suitable soils for farming.  

Finally, in Kenya we have what has been humorously referred to as “Oil Mania”. Kenyans have run a mock with oil exploration all over the country since oil was recently discovered in the north western town of Turkana. Though we have to wait for some studies to determine its economic feasibility, prospects are high and surely geoscience is an important ingredient of development.

In view of all these success stories, what would my neighbor who threatened to disown his son for wanting to pursue a course in geology against his wish for an educational course do? I suppose he would cover his face in shame.