He explores the sun-scorched savannah with a wooden stick in his hand. Silently, he listens for the vibrations of the water. He is a Comboni Missionary dowser who, for thirty-five years has sought the life that flows beneath the ground.
He moves slowly with his forked stick in his hands, he stops, moves on again as it is not easy to achieve harmony with the vibrations of water. In the Turkana desert in northern Kenya, the sun is already high in the sky. Brother Dario wears shorts and a T-shirt with a beret on his head and a pair of well-worn sandals on his feet.
At last the stick begins to vibrate. He smiles. That is where they must drill. He is quite certain. There is plenty of water there.
This year, the drought affecting Kenya could become a humanitarian disaster. The shortage of water has sparked off episodes of violence between the nomadic pastoralists who seek to access and take over the meagre sources of provisions, essential for human survival as well as that of the animals.
The emergency is also affecting other countries of the area. According to Red Cross figures, 13 million people are in immediate need of humanitarian aid.
Brother Dario Laurencig, 66, Italian, is well aware of what drought means. He still remembers today how his work of water divining began in 1982, just after a terrible drought had brought the local population to its knees in West Pokot. When the humanitarian emergency was over and the aid had been distributed, Brother Dario decided to do what he could so that the shortage of water would not kill again in the future.
“I did not know how to combat drought. Wells were needed. I had not studied geology and I was no hydraulic technician”, the missionary recounts. “However, I remembered having seen, while I was young, the shepherd of my own mountains looking for water using a forked stick. I thought it best to gather some information about water divining and I began to practice it. I must confess that I felt strange with that stick in my hands. But gradually I realised I was developing a sensitivity that helped me find underground streams”.
Thirty-five years have gone by since he first found water. Now he can claim to have provided 300 wells in northern Kenya. He recently visited Sudan. “There is an emergency situation there. Already last year I was asked at least twice to go there to look for water. I did not go because of the civil war. The previous year I had gone there to drill a well and set up a solar pump. When I was finished, the rebels did not want to let me go back. The UN had to intervene to evacuate me from there by plane. This year I could not refuse to go, also because there is a bad drought in the whole of east Africa. I found a badly confused situation. Continual attacks by government and rebel troops have cause more than 3million people to flee. Many had to seek refuge in the nearby countries including Kenya. In Juba, the capital, there are no supplies to be found and what there is extremely expensive”.
There are long queues of people waiting to buy fuel for vehicles and the roads are almost empty. Most of the shops are closed. Only a few people take the risk of trading for fear of being robbed by the different armies and placing their lives in danger. The few workers still there are mostly immigrants since the locals have been compelled to join the army, and they take things very calmly. However, we succeeded in drilling three wells and to indicate three or four places to drill more. Unfortunately, the only company still present in the capital city (the others have fled) has no fuel to carry out the work”.
Back in Kenya, he already had a car at the airport waiting to take him to look for more water. “I have so many requests – the missionary continues – that I can no longer carry out my works. On the other hand, water is essential for life and I believe it takes priority over other commitments. Due to the drought, we have to increase our work this year”.
Over the years, Bro. Dario has seen his work recognised by many NGOs, hydrologists and various drilling companies. “In reality, as a missionary, I am happy to see the joy on the faces of the people when the water starts to flow. Water is life. I remember one place west of Lodwar in Turkana. There, fifty metres down, I found water. Soon after the well was drilled, it changed the lives of 300 people. The inhabitants of the area no longer had to dig with their hands in dried-up river beds. They no longer had to walk for tens of kilometres under the burning sun to reach a well. And, even more importantly, they no longer had to fight over the well.”
Brother Dario notes a small camel coming to drink at the well. “God has given me this special sensitivity of finding the life that flows underground”. He has spent more than 42 years on African soil. A life to give life by giving water.