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)
1 / 6
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)
2 / 6
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)
3 / 6
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)
4 / 6
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)
5 / 6
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)
6 / 6
The cloud-seeing technology was first tried in the 1940s and was put into widespread use in the 1970s. (Shutterstock photo)
Short Url
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


Criticism over Israeli ‘terror’ label for Palestinian groups

Criticism over Israeli ‘terror’ label for Palestinian groups
Updated 55 min 37 sec ago

Criticism over Israeli ‘terror’ label for Palestinian groups

Criticism over Israeli ‘terror’ label for Palestinian groups
  • Move by Defense Minister Benny Gantz has even drawn fire from within Israel’s government, an unwieldy eight-party alliance that includes left-wing politicians
  • Representatives from 25 Israeli civil society groups traveled to Ramallah Wednesday to show solidarity with their Palestinian colleagues

JERUSALEM: Israel’s surprise “terrorist” designation of six Palestinian civil society groups has divided its ruling coalition and thrown a spotlight on Marxist group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
The move announced last Friday by Defense Minister Benny Gantz caused shockwaves, including among European donors who support the targeted groups and from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Israeli non-government organizations, or NGOs, which partner with the implicated Palestinians also voiced astonishment.
So did some in the media, given the prominence of the groups involved — especially Al-Haq, a rights group founded in 1979 by writer Raja Shehadeh, a New Yorker magazine contributor.
Gantz has also taken fire from within Israel’s government, an unwieldy eight-party alliance that includes left-wing politicians.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, leader of the dovish Meretz, warned that as an occupying military power Israel needed to be “very careful in imposing sanctions on Palestinian civil organizations because there are political, diplomatic and, more importantly, human rights consequences.”
Transport Minister and Labor leader Merav Michaeli said the way the announcement was made “caused Israel great damage with our greatest and most important friends.”
But Gantz’s office has not wavered, insisting that a joint security establishment investigation had proved the six groups operated “as an organized network under the leadership of the PFLP,” as the Marxist group is known.
The PFLP was founded in 1967 by George Habache — mixing Marxist-Leninism, Arab nationalism and virulent anti-Zionism — ultimately becoming the second most powerful Palestinian armed group after Yasser Arafat’s Fatah.
It currently does not have firepower matching the arsenal of rockets held by Gaza’s rulers Hamas or Islamic Jihad, but it is active in the international campaign to boycott Israel known as BDS, short for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions.
The PFLP has been declared a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, and Israel says it is responsible for a 2019 bomb attack in the occupied West Bank that killed 17-year-old Israeli Rina Schnerb.
The PFLP leader in Israeli-blockaded Gaza told AFP the designated organizations have “no link” with his group beyond a shared ideology opposing the occupation.
“These NGOs work in complete independence,” Jamil Mazher said.
The PFLP has been a prime target of the Israeli organization NGO Monitor, which tracks funding and activities of non profit groups engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with specific focus on European donors.
Its president Gerald Steinberg told AFP the designations last week “appears to reflect the impact of NGO Monitor’s ongoing research.”
NGO Monitor wrote to the European anti-fraud office OLAF in November 2020 to share what it said was evidence of EU funds being given to Palestinian NGOs with links to terrorist organizations.
OLAF replied in January that it had “dismissed the case on the grounds that there is no sufficient suspicion to open an investigation,” according to a letter seen by AFP.
Israel is not obligated to disclose the evidence it used to support the terrorism designation, with secrecy allowed under the 2016 counter-terrorism act.
The defense ministry has said the groups had hosted PFLP meetings, employed “convicted terrorists” and operated as a “lifeline” for the PFLP through “fundraising, money laundering and recruitment of activists.”
Tel Aviv University law professor Eliav Lieblich, writing on the Just Security website this week, argued that “it simply cannot be accepted that well-known and widely respected Palestinian human rights groups be designated as ‘terrorist organizations’ by executive fiat and on the basis of classified intelligence.”
An Israeli official told AFP that an envoy would soon head to Washington to share evidence after the US said it would be seeking “more information” about the designations.
Meanwhile, pushback persists against the decision.
Representatives from 25 Israeli civil society groups traveled to Ramallah Wednesday to show solidarity with their Palestinian colleagues.
“This attack on Palestinian civil society, on Palestinian organizations, is not new,” Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of Israeli rights group B’Tselem, told AFP at the demonstration.
“What is new,” he added, is that “they’re targeting some of the most respected and oldest civil society organizations in Palestine, like Al-Haq,” and that growing international outrage means Israel may no longer be able to act with “impunity.”


Arab coalition says 95 Houthis killed in strikes on Juba and Al-Kasarah

Arab coalition says 95 Houthis killed in strikes on Juba and Al-Kasarah
Updated 28 October 2021

Arab coalition says 95 Houthis killed in strikes on Juba and Al-Kasarah

Arab coalition says 95 Houthis killed in strikes on Juba and Al-Kasarah
  • On Thursday, the Arab coalition destroyed five Houthi ballistic missiles fired toward Jazan, Saudi Arabia
  • 11 military vehicles were destroyed in the 22 strikes carried out on Juba and Al-Kasarah

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said on Thursday that 95 Houthis were killed during air strikes on two districts near the central Yemeni city of Marib.
The coalition added that 11 military vehicles had also been destroyed in the 22 strikes carried out on Juba and Al-Kasarah during the last 24 hours.
Juba is some 50 km south of Marib, whilst Al-Kasarah is 30 km northwest of the city.
The coalition has reported heavy strikes around Marib in recent weeks.
Earlier on Thursday, the Arab coalition intercepted and destroyed five Houthi ballistic missiles fired toward the southwestern Saudi city of Jazan.


UN calls on Sudan’s military to restore civilian-led government

UN calls on Sudan’s military to restore civilian-led government
Updated 28 October 2021

UN calls on Sudan’s military to restore civilian-led government

UN calls on Sudan’s military to restore civilian-led government
  • The council called for the immediate release of all those detained by the military authorities
  • Statement is the product of days of laborious talks among council members and was watered down under pressure from Russia

UNITED NATIONS, United States: The UN Security Council called Thursday on Sudan’s new military rulers to restore the civilian-led government that they toppled this week.
The council passed unanimously a statement that expressed “serious concern” about the coup Monday in the poverty-stricken African nation which has enjoyed only rare periods of democracy since gaining independence in 1956.
The council called for the immediate release of all those detained by the military authorities and urged “all stakeholders to engage in dialogue without pre-conditions.”
The British-drafted statement is the product of days of laborious talks among council members and was watered down under pressure from Russia. The council met in an urgent session Tuesday after the putsch.
The statement expresses concern over the “suspension of some transitional institutions, the declaration of a state of emergency” and the detention of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. He was taken Monday by the military and is now under guard at his home, where he was moved after an international outcry. Other ministers remain under full military arrest, however.
One diplomat said that, at the insistence of China, the text notes explicitly that Hamdok did return home on Tuesday evening. But the UN maintains that it considers him as being denied freedom of movement.
The discussions among the Security Council members came against a backdrop of a renewed struggle between Western nations and Russia for influence in Sudan.
A first draft statement floated early this week condemned the coup “in the strongest terms” but this wording was eventually dropped.
In the version that was ultimately adopted, the council “called upon all parties to exercise the utmost restraint, refrain from the use of violence and emphasized the importance of full respect for human rights, including the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.”


US sanctions two Lebanese businessmen and a member of parliament

US sanctions two Lebanese businessmen and a member of parliament
Updated 28 October 2021

US sanctions two Lebanese businessmen and a member of parliament

US sanctions two Lebanese businessmen and a member of parliament
  • Jihad Al-Arab and Dany Khoury were sanctioned for alleged corruption related to state contracts
  • Lawmaker Jamil Sayyed was sanctioned for allegedly seeking to transfer $120 million abroad

BEIRUT: The US Treasury on Thursday imposed sanctions on two top Lebanese contractors and a lawmaker close to the Hezbollah movement over alleged large-scale corruption that undermined the rule of law in Lebanon.
Businessmen Jihad Al-Arab and Dany Khoury, close to former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri and Christian politician Gebran Bassil respectively, were sanctioned for alleged corruption related to state contracts.
Lawmaker Jamil Sayyed was sanctioned for allegedly seeking to “skirt domestic banking policies and regulations” and transfer $120 million abroad, “presumably to enrich himself and his associates,” a Treasury statement said. 


Lebanon, Syria and Jordan reach final deal to transfer electricity, ministers say

Lebanon, Syria and Jordan reach final deal to transfer electricity, ministers say
Updated 28 October 2021

Lebanon, Syria and Jordan reach final deal to transfer electricity, ministers say

Lebanon, Syria and Jordan reach final deal to transfer electricity, ministers say
  • The World Bank would finance the deal, Lebanese energy minister Walid Fayad said
  • Lebanon is suffering from an acute energy crisis

BEIRUT: Lebanon, Syria and Jordan have reached a final deal to transfer electricity to Lebanon which is suffering an acute energy crisis, ministers from the three neighboring countries said in a joint news conference on Thursday.
The World Bank attended a joint meeting for the participating countries and would finance the deal, Lebanese energy minister Walid Fayad said.
"The Americans have given the green light to the project," he added.