It was music to my ears when I saw last week’s news coverage of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture signing an agreement to buy five aircraft for its cloud seeding program. The government seeks to create new water resources and increase green space through cloud seeding.
Here is a brief background for those unfamiliar with cloud seeding or who have never heard of it. Cloud seeding is a type of weather modification that aims to change the amount or type of precipitation that falls from clouds by dispersing substances or electric charges into the air. Light planes are fitted with flares and fly into the base of clouds, where these flares are released. The flares contain salt crystals mixed with potassium chloride, sodium chloride and magnesium, which encourages water vapor in the clouds to form droplets heavy enough to fall as rain.
This method of water penetration is not new. Back in 1952, a freak storm caused floods that destroyed the UK village of Lynmouth, resulting in the deaths of 34 people. Reports emerged years later that the storm might have resulted from a government-backed cloud seeding project. More than a decade later, during the Vietnam War, the US Army allegedly used cloud seeding techniques to increase monsoon rain. In 2015, the UAE government launched its Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science to encourage research on rain enhancement.
The program aims to enhance water resources, develop vegetation and enable the Kingdom to benefit from renewable water sources.
The Saudi cloud seeding program includes five aircraft. Four will be for cloud seeding and the specially equipped fifth plane will be for weather and climate research and studies. It is worth noting that the Kingdom is the second country in the world to own this type of research aircraft and that the industrial cloud seeding program aims to enhance water resources, develop vegetation and enable the Kingdom to benefit from renewable water sources.
A year ago, the ministry launched the program’s first phase to increase precipitation levels, create new water sources, increase green space and intensify vegetation to mitigate desertification and drought through qualified local staff with the highest skill levels. Now, the program has completed its third phase and is preparing to launch the fourth. The preliminary studies of rainfall resulting from the first three phases’ initial results indicate precipitation of 3.5 billion cubic meters of water in target areas.
There is always a question about the rationale behind cloud seeding. From a cost standpoint per cubic meter, producing water through cloud seeding is cheaper than desalination. Furthermore, rainfalls triggered by cloud seeding are vital for the ambitious Saudi Green Initiative to plant millions of trees nationwide.
• Basil M.K. Al-Ghalayini is the chairman and CEO of BMG Financial Group.