Advances in artificial rainfall hold big promise for water-scarce Arab region

An airport employee signals to a twin-propeller Beechcraft plane as it prepares to take off on a cloud-seeding mission at the UAE's al-Ain airport on April 23, 2015. (AFP)
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An airport employee signals to a twin-propeller Beechcraft plane as it prepares to take off on a cloud-seeding mission at the UAE's al-Ain airport on April 23, 2015. (AFP)
A big challenge after the rain has fallen is to prevent it from evaporating or simply flowing off into the sea. (Supplied)
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A big challenge after the rain has fallen is to prevent it from evaporating or simply flowing off into the sea. (Supplied)
The UAE, which suffered from rare heavy rains in 2006, is normally arid for most of the year — and climate change is putting real pressure on where it and its neighbors will source water from in future. (AFP)
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The UAE, which suffered from rare heavy rains in 2006, is normally arid for most of the year — and climate change is putting real pressure on where it and its neighbors will source water from in future. (AFP)
A big challenge after the rain has fallen is to prevent it from evaporating or simply flowing off into the sea. (Supplied)
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A big challenge after the rain has fallen is to prevent it from evaporating or simply flowing off into the sea. (Supplied)
A pilot and a UAE official from the National Center for Meteorology and Seismology inspect a Beechcraft plane at the Al-Ain airport before another cloud-seeding sortie. (AFP/file photo)
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A pilot and a UAE official from the National Center for Meteorology and Seismology inspect a Beechcraft plane at the Al-Ain airport before another cloud-seeding sortie. (AFP/file photo)
The cloud-seeing technology was first tried in the 1940s and was put into widespread use in the 1970s. (Shutterstock photo)
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The cloud-seeing technology was first tried in the 1940s and was put into widespread use in the 1970s. (Shutterstock photo)
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Updated 09 August 2021

Advances in artificial rainfall hold big promise for water-scarce Arab region

Advances in artificial rainfall hold big promise for water-scarce Arab region
  • Rain enhancement techniques using drones set to complement UAE’s cloud-seeding program
  • Results of research may benefit Middle East and Central Asian countries in water-scarce environments

DUBAI: Drone technology has more applications than most people imagine, including manipulating the weather. In the UAE, scientists are planning to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles to penetrate clouds and generate rainfall using electrical charges — a process that builds on the success of “cloud seeding.”

In common with other Gulf countries, heat and aridity are the bane of life in the UAE, where just 1.2 mm of rain fell in the first three months of 2021 and where summer temperatures often hit 50 C. Scientists are therefore exploring innovative solutions to the interrelated problems of extreme temperatures, heat waves, water scarcity and poor air quality.

The results of their efforts could bring benefits not only to the UAE but also to other Middle East and Central Asian countries with water-scarce environments.

“This is a very important and interesting initiative for the UAE, not only as a scientific or research experiment, but to make the country a global hub in cloud-seeding knowledge,” Dr. Mohamed Shamrukh, a civil engineer who participated in cloud-seeding feasibility studies in the Kingdom in 2007-2008, told Arab News. “Such an initiative is urgently needed in our region.”

As one of the driest countries on earth, the UAE has precious few freshwater resources of its own. As a result, its economy is highly reliant on imports and desalination — the process of removing salt from seawater — to irrigate crops and meet the demands of its growing population.

In fact, the UAE accounts for some 14 percent of the world’s desalinated water, second only to Saudi Arabia, which has also tapped cloud-seeding technology as a potential way of addressing its freshwater shortage.

Riyadh last year approved a cloud-seeding program aimed at increasing rainfall in the Kingdom by almost 20 percent. In the UAE, that work began earlier, in 2017, when the government invested $15 million in nine rain-enhancement projects.

Using experimental drone technology, scientists can create man-made downpours by delivering electric shocks to cumulus clouds, causing them to clump together and produce precipitation.




A pilot and a UAE official from the National Center for Meteorology and Seismology inspect a Beechcraft plane at the Al-Ain airport before another cloud-seeding sortie. (AFP/file photo)

The small, remote-controlled gliders, equipped with a payload of electric-charge emission instruments and customized sensors, fly at low altitudes to deliver an electric charge to air molecules.

Clouds naturally carry positive and negative charges, but by altering the balance of these charges, these electric shocks enable water droplets to merge into larger raindrops and fall from the sky.

Of course, once the rain has fallen, the next challenge is to prevent it from evaporating or simply flowing off into the sea. To this end the UAE has built around 130 dams and levees with a storage capacity of about 120 million cubic meters.

There are several methods of triggering rainfall that scientists are exploring, including the spraying of salt compounds, silver iodide and dry ice into the atmosphere.

If the drone technique proves successful in the long run, cloud seeding could play a major role in enhancing the wider region’s sustainable water supply for years to come. Rain-enhancement projects could help to mitigate drought conditions without the environmental, cost and efficacy concerns associated with methods involving salt flares.

“The UAE has similar weather and climate to the other Gulf countries and this leading experiment in the UAE is very useful to them,” Shamrukh said.

INNUMBERS

• 50 Countries looking to establish rain enhancement programs. 

20% Targeted increase in KSA’s rainfall through cloud seeding.

18% KSA’s share of global production of desalinated seawater.

80-85% KSA’s water demand currently met by groundwater sources.

Earth’s surface is 71 percent water, but the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region sees precious little of this life-giving resource. According to the UN, it is the world’s most water-scarce region, with 17 countries considered below the water poverty line.

Matters are made worse by rapid population growth, poor infrastructure and overexploitation of limited resources. Agriculture alone accounts for around 80 percent of water usage in the MENA region, according to the World Bank.

This overuse means the region’s natural groundwater reserves are not replenishing fast enough to keep pace with demand. Desalination of seawater and major dam projects have been the favored solutions, but these come with their own environmental downsides.

Shortages could have wide-reaching humanitarian consequences. Droughts destroy livelihoods, displace populations from rural to urban areas, and can result in conflict and unrest.




The cloud-seeing technology was first tried in the 1940s and was put into widespread use in the 1970s. (Shutterstock photo)

Around 1.1 billion people worldwide already lack reliable access to water, and 2.7 billion endure scarcity for at least one month of the year. By 2025, an estimated two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages.

Forecasts suggest water supplies will drop dramatically by 2030 and that rationing could become the new normal unless sustainable solutions are implemented.

Along with ground-based seeding generators, cloud seeding is perhaps one way to help top up dwindling reserves. Last year, the UAE conducted more than 200 cloud-seeding operations, led by its National Center of Meteorology and Seismology (NCMS).

A team of pilots and technicians at NCMS’s dedicated operations room analyzed data based on their observation of 150 cumulus clouds to identify those considered “seedable.”

These detached, cauliflower-shaped clouds are usually spotted in fair weather conditions, and often hug highland areas such as the UAE’s eastern Al-Hajar mountains, which deflect the warm air blowing in from the Gulf of Oman. They tend to develop as a result of convection and stay at base heights of 1,000 meters, with a width of up to one kilometer.




The UAE, which suffered from rare heavy rains in 2006, is normally arid for most of the year — and climate change is putting real pressure on where it and its neighbors will source water from in future. (AFP)

“Based on the previous experience the UAE has gained, they know and understand more of how to use their system of monitoring every drop of water that falls,” Dr Khalil Ammar, principal scientist in hydrogeology and water resources management at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai (ICBA), said. “They know which type of cloud they can use certain technologies on to avoid any risk of floods or damage on the ground.”

Cloud seeding is a rapidly growing science that the UAE is well placed to capitalize on. Being able to predict the distribution and intensity of rainfall in the Gulf and wider MENA region could prove critical in the years to come as climate change makes droughts more common.

“It’s very important to keep investigating and using leading technologies to enhance rainfall and increase opportunities for its occurrence,” Ammar said.

However, scientists must be cautious about the possible environmental side effects and other risks while generating rainfall artificially, including the potential for pollution and flash flooding.

“The UAE avoids certain types of clouds with huge quantities of water,” Ammar said. “We need to work more on showing evidence on what’s happening in this program and what implications and gains there are. Whatever drop of water you can bring in ultimately has high value because it adds to the water system of the country and region.”

For Shamrukh, there is still a long way to go, both in the development of seeding technology and in scientific understanding of the best processes. “Nowadays, there are many cloud-seeding techniques,” he said.

He and Ammar would both like to see more investment in rain-making technologies and much more regional cooperation to address the shared dangers posed by climate change and water shortages.

“Cloud seeding is a must, not a choice,” Ammar said. “Scientists should keep developing new ideas and innovations from all over the world and bring them here, if they are affordable and technically feasible to scale up.

“Maybe a joint program for the whole GCC is possible, as it will help improve their performance instead of working separately on monitoring.

“All this rain is valuable,” he said. “Countries can’t survive without this valuable resource.”

___________________

Twitter: @CalineMalek


Sudan: Political tensions continue as protesters block roads

Sudan: Political tensions continue as protesters block roads
Updated 23 min 50 sec ago

Sudan: Political tensions continue as protesters block roads

Sudan: Political tensions continue as protesters block roads
  • The current crisis surfaced with a coup attempt last month

CAIRO: Pro-military protesters briefly blocked major roads and bridges in Sudan’s capital Sunday, amid growing tensions between the generals and the pro-democracy movement that fueled the uprising against autocratic former president Omar Al-Bashir.
The development came a day after US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman met with military and civilian leaders in Khartoum to find a compromise to the dispute.
The souring ties between the military and civilians in the ruling government threaten Sudan’s fragile transition to democracy since the military’s ouster of Al-Bashir and his Islamist government in April 2019 after nearly three decades of autocratic rule.
The current crisis surfaced with a coup attempt last month. Officials blamed Al-Bashir loyalists for the move. But the generals lashed out at the civilian part of the government, accusing politicians of seeking government posts rather than helping ease people’s economic suffering.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of the ruling Sovereign Council, said that dissolving the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok could resolve the ongoing political crisis. That suggestion was rejected by hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy protesters who took to the streets of Khartoum and elsewhere in the country Thursday.
That generals’ accusations, echoed by Burhan and his deputy, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, commander of the feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, have aroused fears among civilians that the military may eventually hijack the country’s transition to civilian rule.
Pro-military protesters rallied in Khartoum earlier this month, echoing Burhan’s demands. The protesters have since held a sit-in outside the presidential palace in the capital. Last week, they attempted to storm the Cabinet headquarters as Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok met with his Cabinet. Security forces dispersed them using tear gas.
On Saturday, dozens of pro-military protesters stormed the reception area of the headquarters of the country’s state-run news agency and set tires ablaze outside the agency offices. It delayed a news conference for pro-democracy activists, according to Mohamed Abdel-Hamid, director of SUNA news agency.
In an escalation Sunday, pro-military demonstrators cut off major roads and bridges, including the Mec Nimr Bridge, which links Khartoum’s downtown with other areas of the capital, according to activist and rights defender Tahani Abbas. The move caused traffic to clog the streets early Sunday, the first work day of the week, especially Nile Street, a main traffic artery in Khartoum.
“What is happening ... is an official coup sponsored by Burhan,” she said. Abbas shared photos of protesters blocking a bridge with passenger buses and vehicles being turned back.
Later in the day, security forces dispersed the protesters using tear gas to open the blocked roads. Video on social media purportedly showed protesters fleeing over the bridge and on Nile Street.
Feltman, the US envoy, met in Khartoum with Buhan, Dagalo and Hamdok and “emphasized US support for a civilian democratic transition in accordance with the expressed wishes of the Sudanese people,” the US Embassy in Khartoum said.
He urged Sudanese leaders “to commit to working together to implement the constitutional declaration and the Juba Peace Agreement” between the government and an alliance of rebel groups, the embassy said.
The tensions come weeks ahead of a scheduled rotation of the leadership on the ruling sovereign council from the military to civilians, according to the constitutional declaration that established the joint government in August 2019.


Libya’s elections commission to open registration for candidates in Nov, commission head says

Libya’s elections commission to open registration for candidates in Nov, commission head says
Updated 25 min 43 sec ago

Libya’s elections commission to open registration for candidates in Nov, commission head says

Libya’s elections commission to open registration for candidates in Nov, commission head says

DUBAI: Registration for candidates in Libya’s presidential and parliamentary elections should open in November, the head of the High National Elections Commission, said on Sunday.
Emad Al-Sayah said the registration process should open by mid-November after technical and logistical preparations are completed.
Elections have been viewed as a key step in efforts to end a decade of violence by creating a new political leadership whose legitimacy is widely accepted.
But wrangling over the constitutional basis for elections, the rules governing the vote and questions over its credibility have threatened to unravel the country’s peace process in recent months.
Libya’s prime minister and several foreign powers on Thursday endorsed the holding of a national election on Dec. 24 as envisaged in a UN-backed peace plan aimed at resolving years of turmoil and division.
However, although parliament has issued a law for the presidential election on that date, it has also issued a separate law saying the parliamentary election will happen at a later date. Other political institutions in Libya have rejected parliament’s proposals.
The first round of the presidential election is due to be held on Dec. 24. A second round, along with a parliamentary election, will then be held at a later date, said Al-Sayah.


Israel, UAE sign ‘green corridor’ agreement for vaccinated passengers — Israeli consulate in Dubai

Israel, UAE sign ‘green corridor’ agreement for vaccinated passengers — Israeli consulate in Dubai
Updated 24 October 2021

Israel, UAE sign ‘green corridor’ agreement for vaccinated passengers — Israeli consulate in Dubai

Israel, UAE sign ‘green corridor’ agreement for vaccinated passengers — Israeli consulate in Dubai
  • Passengers vaccinated against the coronavirus can travel freely between the two countries

DUBAI: Israel and the United Arab Emirates have signed a “green corridor” agreement allowing passengers vaccinated against the novel coronavirus to travel freely between the two countries, the Israeli consulate in Dubai said on Twitter on Sunday.


Israel set to OK 3,000 West Bank settler homes this week

Israel set to OK 3,000 West Bank settler homes this week
Updated 24 October 2021

Israel set to OK 3,000 West Bank settler homes this week

Israel set to OK 3,000 West Bank settler homes this week

TEL AVIV: Israel is expected to move forward with thousands of new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank this week, a settlement watchdog group said Sunday.
The plan for some 3,000 new settler units in the West Bank has already drawn calls for restraint from the US, which on Friday voiced “concern” over the expected approvals.
Hagit Ofran from the anti-settlement group Peace Now said a committee is set to meet Wednesday to approve 2,800 units deep in the West Bank, complicating any efforts to create a Palestinian state. More than half of those are receiving final approval, meaning construction could begin in the coming year.
On Friday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US was “concerned” about the housing plans. He called on Israel and the Palestinians to “refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tension and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution” to the conflict.
The Palestinians seek the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem — areas Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war — for their future state. The Palestinians view the settlements, which house some 700,000 settlers, as the main obstacle to peace. Most of the international community considers settlements illegal.
Israel views the West Bank as the biblical and historical heartland of the Jewish people.
Ofran said Israel is also set to approve 1,600 units for Palestinians in the areas of the West Bank that it controls. But critics say the move comes at the initiative of villagers and not the Israeli government and that the figure is a fraction of the building permits requested by Palestinians over the years.


Under Israel’s blockade, Gaza fishermen struggle for a catch

Under Israel’s blockade, Gaza fishermen struggle for a catch
Updated 24 October 2021

Under Israel’s blockade, Gaza fishermen struggle for a catch

Under Israel’s blockade, Gaza fishermen struggle for a catch
  • High prices of fuel in the enclave means that fishing operating costs are crippling, making them stay closer inshore
  • The permitted fishing zone was expanded last month to 15 nautical miles

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: Crashing through the Mediterranean waves at sunset, Palestinian fisherman Mohammed Al-Nahal leads a convoy of rickety boats out for another risky night under the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Forced to stay close to shore due to Israeli restrictions on powerful engines, the men complain they must seek a catch from overfished shallow waters with declining stocks.
“If we catch 200 kilos (450 pounds) of sardines, that would be great,” Nahal says. “But we can also come back empty-handed.”
High prices of fuel in the enclave means that fishing operating costs are crippling, making them stay closer inshore.
“The further we go, the more we pay for fuel without guarantees about the catch,” Nahal says, leading a line of five boats, the air heavy with the stench of diesel and sardines.
For Gaza, fenced in by Israel and Egypt, and where Hamas Islamists took power in 2007, the open sea seems to offer the promise of freedom — but it is deceptive.
Israel’s navy fully controls the waters off Gaza’s 40-kilometer (25-mile) long coastline, and regularly restricts or expands the size of the fishing zone in response to security conditions.
After months of relative calm following an 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in May, the permitted fishing zone was expanded last month to 15 nautical miles, its maximum under the blockade, including deep water with richer fish stocks.
But Nahal’s crew does not venture that far. Six miles is their outer limit, good for sardines, but too close to shore for the bigger value fish such as tuna.
“We fishermen do not have appropriate engines to reach a distance of 15 miles,” Nahal says. “Currently, we are not allowed to enter Gaza with these modern engines.”
Some Palestinian fishermen are also fearful of heading out too far to sea. In the past, Israeli gunboats have opened fire and damaged nets to enforce access restrictions.
Making a living requires resourcefulness, and Nahal has repurposed a Volvo car engine to power the boat and run the powerful lights — which the fishermen shine into the night waters to attract the sardines.
Due to the blockade’s import restrictions, Israel also limits access to other key equipment such as sonar devices to find fish shoals.
Israel restricts such items citing their “dual use,” saying they could either aid Hamas weapons production, or the powerful engines could be used by smugglers.
It says the blockade is necessary to protect Israeli civilians who have been targeted with thousands of rockets fired by militants in the enclave since the Hamas takeover.
But Yussef, 22, keeping watch on Nahal’s boat, complains that with all Gaza’s fishermen forced into the same small area, they struggle to catch enough to turn a profit.
“There’s not enough fish,” he says. “I’ve lived off of fishing since I was 14. Every day, when the water is open, I go out. It’s the only thing I know how to do in life.”
For Gaza, home to some two million Palestinians — roughly half of whom are unemployed — fish from the sea offer a critical source of protein.
But as well as overfishing, the industry faces multiple challenges.
They include poorly treated sewage pumped into the sea from the tightly packed city, “affecting the entire marine environment and public health,” according to a 2020 World Bank report.
“Many of the fish that people depend on are already overexploited,” the World Bank adds.
This time, for Nahal, there is moderate success.
After hours shining bright lights into the waters, the boats encircle the area and cast their nets.
“Here are the fish, catch them, for it is my fish that I love,” the men sing as the catch is hauled up.
Exhausted and back in port, the fishermen sell the catch in the busy port, where auctioneers shout prices to waiting wholesalers.
For Nahal, the half-ton sells within 90 seconds for 3,000 Israeli shekels ($935).
It is more than he had hoped for, but is barely a profitable night once his costs and crew’s wages are deducted.