How artificial rain can make a difference to Saudi Arabia and Gulf region’s water situation

Special How artificial rain can make a difference to Saudi Arabia and Gulf region’s water situation
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Cloud seeding is seen as a viable, environmentally friendly way to increase water supplies in Saudi Arabia in future, as climate change makes the precious resource even more scarce. (Saudi National Center of Meteorology)
Special How artificial rain can make a difference to Saudi Arabia and Gulf region’s water situation
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Cloud seeding is seen as a viable, environmentally friendly way to increase water supplies in Saudi Arabia in future, as climate change makes the precious resource even more scarce. (Saudi National Center of Meteorology)
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Updated 13 June 2022

How artificial rain can make a difference to Saudi Arabia and Gulf region’s water situation

How artificial rain can make a difference to Saudi Arabia and Gulf region’s water situation
  • Drought-hit nations turning to cloud seeding to supplement their water supplies
  • Saudi Arabia has become the second Gulf country to adopt the advanced technology

JEDDAH: To meet the growing demand for fresh water in Saudi Arabia, authorities have launched a project that will alter the structure of clouds to increase rainfall; a technique known as cloud seeding.

With long-term average rainfall of less than 100 millimeters a year, a rising population and a growing agricultural sector, there is an immense thirst for more fresh water in Saudi Arabia. That is why, in early April, the Kingdom began the first phase of a cloud-seeding program to change the amount and type of precipitation.

Following the approval of the plan by the Saudi government, an aircraft was deployed in the skies over the vast rocky Najd plateau in the Kingdom’s central region, where it released plumes of silver iodide into the clouds. This caused ice crystals to form in the clouds, stimulating precipitation over targeted areas. The process began in the Riyadh region and will soon expand to other sites in Asir, Baha and Taif.

“The Kingdom is considered one of the countries with the least rainfall, with an average of 100 mm annually,” Ayman Ghulam, chief executive officer of the National Center of Meteorology, said during a conference in Riyadh in March. “Cloud seeding is one of the most promising solutions in Saudi Arabia.”

The National Artificial Rain program is expected to continue for five years, with the aim of increasing rainfall by up to 20 percent. It is part of the Saudi Green Initiative, launched in March 2021 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to promote sustainable development and environmental preservation and to secure natural water sources in the Kingdom.

Roelof Bruintjes, who leads the weather modification group at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, said the Kingdom is using a well-established method of cloud seeding that is harmless to the environment.

The two seeding agents used in the Saudi operation are hygroscopic (which means substances that tend to absorb moisture from the air) materials such as salts and silver iodide. They are employed in such small concentrations so as to be largely undetectable, and have been used for almost 40 years in cloud-seeding projects in the western US, where droughts are prevalent.

The success of cloud-seeding operations, Bruintjes said, depends to some degree on the characteristics of the clouds themselves.

“No cloud is the same as another cloud and no cloud will ever be the same as another cloud,” he told Arab News.

“In Saudi Arabia, most of your clouds that occur in the central region and southwest are more convective kinds of clouds. In that way, we mostly use hygroscopic cells to create larger droplets so they can more easily collide with each other and hold rain, so you could get more of the water that is processed in the cloud down to the surface.




 Cloud seeding is seen as a viable, environmentally friendly way to increase water supplies in Saudi Arabia in future, as climate change makes the precious resource even more scarce. (Saudi National Center of Meteorology)

“You’re basically trying to get more water from the clouds to increase the percentage of water the cloud processes that comes down to the surface.”

Water covers about 71 percent of the Earth’s surface but the Middle East and North Africa region has precious little of the life-giving resource. According to the UN, it is the most water-scarce region in the world, with 17 countries considered to be below the water-poverty line.

The situation is made worse by rapid population growth, poor infrastructure and the overexploitation of limited resources. Agriculture alone accounts for about 80 percent of water usage in the Middle East and North Africa region, according to the World Bank.

INNUMBERS

50 - Countries looking to establish rain-enhancement programs.

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

18% - Saudi share of global production of desalinated seawater.

This overuse means the region’s natural groundwater reserves are not replenished fast enough to keep pace with demand. Shortages can have wide-reaching humanitarian consequences, with droughts destroying livelihoods and displacing populations from rural to urban areas.

About 1.1 billion people worldwide 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 global population might 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.

The UN has classified Saudi Arabia and most other Gulf nations as water scarce. The exception is Oman, which sits slightly above the severe scarcity threshold of 500 cubic meters of water per capita per year.

Studies have found that the Middle East could be among the regions worst affected by climate change. They warn that the conditions are conducive to a process known as photochemical air pollution, which adds to the increase and high concentration of aerosol particles from sources both natural, such as desert dust, and artificial, such as pollution.




Aerosols are blamed as among the causes of climate change, which affect the way clouds form. (Shutterstock photo)

“The Middle East is the crossroads of the world,” said Bruintjes. “You get the pollution from India in the summertime, due to easterly winds, and in the winter you probably get some of the frontal systems from eastern Europe and from the Mediterranean.

“Aerosols don’t know borders, clouds don’t know borders, pollution doesn’t know borders.”

It is because of these man-made and environmental factors that cloud seeding is seen as an especially effective solution for this particular region.

“The influence of biomass smoke from Africa, the Sahara dust penetration in that region, those are the kind of things we will be evaluating as part of any cloud seeding experiment,” said Bruintjes.

“Dust particles only interact with clouds to form ice crystals, not droplets. However, outgassing in the oil industry produces sulfates more than nitrate — smaller particles that can usually inhibit precipitation — and that’s where cloud seeding may come in.”




An Emirati pilot prepares his plane for a cloud-seeding operation. (AN file photo)

Saudi Arabia has no permanent natural lakes or rivers, nor does it have areas of abundant natural vegetation, with the exception of its southwestern Asir highlands.

Over the past three decades, the Kingdom had been tapping its underground reserves, known as aquifers, for agricultural purposes. As a result, they have been depleted from 166 cubic meters of renewable internal freshwater resources per capita in 1987 to just 71 cubic meters in 2018.

The country has therefore been forced to rely on imports and the desalination of seawater on a massive scale to meet demand.

A 2018 UN study found that there are 16,000 desalination plants operating in 177 countries producing a volume of freshwater equivalent to almost half the average flow of Niagara Falls. Saudi Arabia is home to one of the world’s largest desalination plants.




With no natural, permanent rivers or lakes, Saudi Arabia has pioneered water desalination, including at its plant at the Jubail Industrial City. (AFP)

However, research has shown that desalination plants are inevitably associated with environmental issues, including air pollution, making their long-term use unsustainable if the world hopes to reduce harmful greenhouse-gas emissions.

Saudi Arabia has decades of experience in water desalination, beginning with the opening of the country’s first facility in the 1950s. As new technologies have been developed to minimize emissions, the Kingdom has adopted solar power and other renewables to power its desalination plants.

Nevertheless, if the country is to meet the ever-growing demand for water and replenish its aquifers, alternatives must be developed at an appropriate scale. Along with ground-based seeding generators, cloud seeding is viewed as one possible way to top up dwindling reserves.

Saudi Arabia is only the second nation in the Gulf region, after the UAE, to launch a cloud-seeding program. However, many other drought-affected nations around the world have embraced the technology to modify the weather and help supplement their supplies of natural water.

The ability to predict the distribution and intensity of rainfall in the Gulf and wider MENA regions could prove critical in the years to come as climate change results in more frequent droughts.

 


EU worries may not cross ‘finishing line’ to revive Iran nuclear deal

EU worries may not cross ‘finishing line’ to revive Iran nuclear deal
Updated 30 June 2022

EU worries may not cross ‘finishing line’ to revive Iran nuclear deal

EU worries may not cross ‘finishing line’ to revive Iran nuclear deal
  • “Iran has yet to demonstrate any real urgency to conclude a deal, end the current nuclear crisis and achieve important sanctions lifting,” Richard Mills said

UNITED NATIONS: The European Union said on Thursday it was worried it may not be possible to strike an agreement to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal after indirect talks between the United States and Iran ended this week with no progress.
“I am concerned that we might not make it over the finishing line. My message is: Seize this opportunity to conclude the deal, based on the text that is on the table. The time to overcome the last outstanding issues, conclude the deal, and fully restore the (agreement) is now,” European Union Ambassador to the United Nations Olof Skoog told the UN Security Council.
The Security Council met to discuss the latest report by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the implementation of a 2015 council resolution that enshrines the nuclear deal, under which Iran limited its nuclear program to make it harder to develop an atomic weapon in return for sanctions relief.
“Iran has yet to demonstrate any real urgency to conclude a deal, end the current nuclear crisis and achieve important sanctions lifting,” Richard Mills, Deputy US Ambassador to the United Nations, told the meeting.
Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington aimed at breaking an impasse over how to salvage the nuclear pact ended in Qatar without the progress “the EU team as coordinator had hoped for,” EU envoy Enrique Mora tweeted on Wednesday. 


Four killed in Sudan as protesters rally on uprising anniversary

Four killed in Sudan as protesters rally on uprising anniversary
Updated 30 June 2022

Four killed in Sudan as protesters rally on uprising anniversary

Four killed in Sudan as protesters rally on uprising anniversary
  • Security forces fired tear gas and water cannon as they tried to prevent swelling crowds from marching towards the presidential palace
  • Some protesters carried banners calling for justice for those killed in previous demonstrations

KHARTOUM: Four protesters were shot dead in Sudan on Thursday, medics said, as large crowds took to the streets despite heavy security and a communications blackout to rally against the military leadership that seized power eight months ago.
In central Khartoum, security forces fired tear gas and water cannon as they tried to prevent swelling crowds from marching toward the presidential palace, witnesses said.
They estimated the crowds in Khartoum and its twin cities of Omdurman and Bahri to be at least in the tens of thousands, and to be the largest so far this year. In Omdurman, witnesses reported tear gas and gunfire as security forces prevented protesters from crossing into Khartoum.
The protests mark the third anniversary of huge demonstrations during the uprising that overthrew long-time autocratic ruler Omar Al-Bashir and led to a power-sharing arrangement between civilian groups and the military.
Last October, the military led by General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan toppled the transitional government, triggering rallies that have called on the army to quit politics.
Some protesters carried banners calling for justice for those killed in previous demonstrations. Others chanted, “Burhan, Burhan, back to the barracks and hand over your companies,” a reference to the Sudanese military’s economic holdings.
Earlier, protesters barricaded some of the capital’s main thoroughfares with stones and burning tires.
June 30 also marks the day Bashir took power in a coup in 1989. “Either we get to the presidential palace and remove Al-Burhan or we won’t return home,” said a 21-year-old female student protesting in Bahri.
It was the first time in months of protests against the October coup that Internet and phone services had been cut. After the military takeover, extended Internet blackouts were imposed in an apparent effort to hamper the protest movement.
Staff at Sudan’s two private sector telecoms companies, speaking on condition of anonymity, said authorities had ordered them to shut down the Internet once again on Thursday.
BRIDGES SHUT
Phone calls within Sudan were also cut and security forces closed bridges over the Nile linking Khartoum, Omdurman and Bahri — another step typically taken on big protest days to limit the movement of marchers.
In recent days there have been daily neighborhood protests.
On Wednesday, medics aligned with the protest movement said security forces shot dead a child during protests in Bahri. Thursday’s four deaths, all in Omdurman, brought the number of protesters killed since the coup to 107. There were large numbers of injuries and attempts by security forces to storm hospitals in the capital where they were being treated, the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors said.
There was no immediate comment from Sudanese authorities.
The United Nations envoy in Sudan, Volker Perthes, called this week on authorities to abide by a pledge to protect the right of peaceful assembly. “Violence against protesters will not be tolerated,” he said.
Military leaders said they dissolved the government in October because of political paralysis. As a result, however, international financial support agreed with the transitional government was frozen and an economic crisis has deepened.
Burhan said on Wednesday the armed forces were looking forward to the day when an elected government could take over, but this could only be done through consensus or elections, not protests.
Mediation efforts led by the United Nations and the African Union have so far yielded little progress.


Joint Egyptian-Bahraini statement stresses depth of relationship and need for coordination

Joint Egyptian-Bahraini statement stresses depth of relationship and need for coordination
Updated 30 June 2022

Joint Egyptian-Bahraini statement stresses depth of relationship and need for coordination

Joint Egyptian-Bahraini statement stresses depth of relationship and need for coordination
  • Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa conclude Manama talks
  • Both countries affirmed the “unity of a common position and destiny toward all regional and international issues and developments of common interest”

CAIRO: In a joint statement at the conclusion of talks between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Egypt and Bahrain stressed the depth of the two countries’ relations, and the need for coordination and cooperation to confront the challenges of the region, maintain its security and achieve stability. 

The joint statement was issued after bilateral talks at Sakhir Palace in Manama.

Both countries affirmed the “unity of a common position and destiny toward all regional and international issues and developments of common interest,” and an “increase in the pace of economic cooperation for broader horizons that would support the common interests of the two brotherly countries.”

The two sides agreed to “coordinate joint efforts to combat terrorism and its organizations and prevent its financing, and to spare the region the dangers of destabilising activities.”

They also stressed “support for Arab efforts to urge Iran to abide by international principles of non-interference in the affairs of Arab countries, to preserve the principles of good-neighborliness, and to spare the region all destabilising activities, including supporting armed militias and threatening maritime navigation and international trade lines.”

Both countries highlighted “supporting international efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, ensuring the peacefulness of Iran’s nuclear program, strengthening the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency, maintaining the non-proliferation regime, and the importance of supporting efforts to establish a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.” 

With regard to the Renaissance Dam crisis, Bahrain’s ruler expressed “the Kingdom of Bahrain’s full support for Egyptian water security as an integral part of Arab water security,” and urged Ethiopia to abandon its unilateral policy in connection with international rivers, and to abide by the international laws related to filling and operating the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

He also stressed “the necessity of negotiating in good faith with Egypt and Sudan to reach a binding legal agreement in this regard, in implementation of the presidential statement issued by the Security Council in September 2021, in a way that averts the damage caused by this project to the downstream countries and enhances cooperation between the peoples of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.”

The Bahraini side expressed its full solidarity with the Arab Republic of Egypt in all the measures it takes to protect its national security.

On the Yemeni issue, the two sides affirmed their support for international efforts to find a comprehensive political solution to the Yemeni crisis, in accordance with the approved international references, and the Saudi initiative to end the Yemeni crisis. They also expressed their full support for the Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council to perform its constitutional responsibilities “to achieve security, stability and development in Yemen.”

They also affirmed their support for the UN armistice agreement in Yemen and welcomed the announcement of its extension. The Bahraini side appreciated Egypt’s response to the request of the legitimate Yemeni government and the United Nations to operate direct flights between Cairo and Sanaa in support of that armistice and alleviating the humanitarian suffering of the Yemeni people.

The two sides welcomed the upcoming summit to be hosted by Saudi Arabia between the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Jordan and Egypt, and the Prime Minister of Iraq with US President Joe Biden.


Iran says nuclear deal still possible despite Qatar talks setback

Iran says nuclear deal still possible despite Qatar talks setback
Updated 30 June 2022

Iran says nuclear deal still possible despite Qatar talks setback

Iran says nuclear deal still possible despite Qatar talks setback
  • Indirect talks in Qatar's capital between Iran and US on reviving 2015 nuclear deal concluded with no progress
  • Iran says a deal could still be reached

TEHRAN: Iran insisted Thursday that a revived nuclear agreement with major powers remains achievable despite a negative US assessment of two-way talks in Qatar intended to reboot the stalled negotiations.
The US State Department said the EU-brokered proximity talks in the Qatari capital Doha had concluded late Wednesday with “no progress made.”
But Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said he believed the talks had been “positive” and a deal could still be reached.
“We are determined to continue negotiating until a realistic agreement is reached,” he said after a phone call with his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, who hosted the indirect talks.
“Our assessment of the recent round of talks in Doha is positive,” he said.
“I insist on the fact that we are making serious efforts to reach a good, solid and lasting agreement,” said Amir-Abdollahian.
“An accord is achievable if the United States is realistic.”
The two days of talks, in which EU mediators shuttled between Iranian and US delegations, were intended to reboot wider negotiations between Iran and major powers in Vienna which have been stalled since March.
The talks aim to bring the United States back into a 2015 deal jettisoned by the Donald Trump administration in 2018 by lifting the sweeping economic sanctions he imposed in exchange for Iran’s return to full compliance with the limits set on its nuclear activities.
Washington has “made clear our readiness to quickly conclude and implement a deal on mutual return to full compliance,” the US State Department spokesperson said after the talks wrapped up in Qatar.
“Yet in Doha, as before, Iran raised issues wholly unrelated to the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) and apparently is not ready to make a fundamental decision on whether it wants to revive the deal or bury it.”
Differences between Tehran and Washington have notably included Iran’s demand that its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be removed from a US terror list.
The talks in Doha came just two weeks before US President Joe Biden makes his first official visit to the region, with trips to Iran foes Israel and Saudi Arabia.


Egyptian PM asks Algeria to advance political and economic relations

Egyptian PM asks Algeria to advance political and economic relations
Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly is currently in talks with Algerian officials. (File/AFP)
Updated 30 June 2022

Egyptian PM asks Algeria to advance political and economic relations

Egyptian PM asks Algeria to advance political and economic relations
  • Madbouly arrived at Houari Boumediene International Airport in the Algerian capital on Wednesday evening
  • Algerian Prime Minister Ayman bin Abd Al-Rahman welcomed Madbouly

CAIRO: Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly is currently in talks with Algerian officials on the advancement of political and economic relations between the two countries during his two-day visit.

Madbouly and the high-level ministerial delegation accompanying him arrived at Houari Boumediene International Airport in the Algerian capital on Wednesday evening to head the eighth session of the joint higher committee between the two countries.

Algerian Prime Minister Ayman bin Abd Al-Rahman welcomed Madbouly, expressing Algeria’s pride in the strong relations with Egypt and its keenness to strengthen cooperation with the country.

It is expected that the visit will comprise meetings with senior Algerian officials and will see the signing of a number of memoranda of understanding between the two sides, especially in the oil and housing sectors. The Egyptian-Algerian Business Leaders’ Forum will also be held to review investment and trade opportunities available in the two countries.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune paid an official visit to Egypt last January, during which he met with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

Tebboune said that his talks with the Egyptian president “presented an opportunity to address economic cooperation” and facilitate investment between the two countries.

At the beginning of this month, Algeria and Egypt agreed on the need to transform their historical relations into “reciprocal partnerships” in the oil sector.

This came during official talks between the Algerian Minister of Energy and Mines Mohammed Arkab and the Egyptian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Tarek El Molla, which took place through a remote meeting.