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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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

  • 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.

 

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Updated 59 min 24 sec ago

Belgian held in Iran for ‘espionage’

  • Man was seized in Iran on February 24 and has been in ‘illegal’ detention since

BRUSSELS: Iran has been holding a Belgian man for the past four months under “espionage” charges, Belgium’s justice minister said Tuesday, as his country weighed a controversial prisoner swap treaty with Tehran.
The man was seized in Iran on February 24 and has been in “illegal” detention since, the minister, Vincent Van Quickenborne, told Belgian MPs without identifying him.
Belgium last year imprisoned an Iranian diplomat for 20 years after his conviction under “terrorist” charges for plotting a bomb attack outside Paris in 2018.
While Quickenborne did not give the detained Belgian’s identity, Iran International, a Saudi-financed media outlet based in London, reported that a 41-year-old Belgian former aid worker is detained in Iran.
The outlet said the Belgian’s arrest appeared to be another instance of Iran “imprisoning foreigners as hostages to exchange them with certain Iranians jailed in Western countries.”
Among those Iran is holding is a Swedish academic who also holds Iranian citizenship, Ahmadreza Djalali, who taught at a Brussels university. Iran also applied “espionage” charges to Djalali and has sentenced him to death.
Quickenborne said officials from Belgium’s embassy in Tehran had twice visited the jailed Belgian to give all possible assistance, and that his family had earlier Tuesday made public his detention.
“I cannot say more, at the express request of the family,” the minister said.
Belgium’s parliament on Thursday is to vote on whether to ratify a bilateral treaty with Iran that would open the way for prisoners in each country to be repatriated.
Quickenborne on Tuesday said as he presented the proposed treaty to MPs for debate that “if the bill is not fully approved, the threat to our Belgian interests and certain Belgian citizens will increase.”
Some US lawmakers, however, are pressing Belgium to ditch the proposed treaty, which was signed in March.
One, Randy Weber, a Republican representative in Texas, tweeted he was “shocked to find out that the Belgian gov has cut a deal with the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism and plans to send Iranian terrorists back to Iran to plot more terroristic acts.”
The imprisoned Iranian diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, was convicted by a Belgian court in February 2021 of attempted “terrorist” murder and “participating in the activities of a terrorist group.”
He was found guilty of supplying explosives for a bomb attack on June 30, 2018 event outside Paris held by the dissident National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI) group.
Information supplied by several European intelligence services allowed Belgium to thwart the attack by intercepting the car carrying the bomb.
A two-year investigation into the plot determined that Assadi was an Iranian agent operating under diplomatic cover.
Assadi was arrested in Germany, where his claim to diplomatic immunity was denied because he was attached to Iran’s embassy in Austria, and extradited to Belgium for trial.
He opted not to appeal against his sentence. Tehran has protested his conviction.
Lawyers for the NCRI, whose core is made up of a militant organization known as the MEK, said the proposed Belgium-Iran treaty was designed to allow Assadi to go back to Iran.
The controversy in Belgium over the treaty comes as European powers are trying to bring Iran and the United States back into compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal.
That pact was badly weakened when former president Donald Trump pulled America out in 2018.
Iran has since leapt ahead with its uranium enrichment to a level putting it close to the point where it could produce nuclear weapons.

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PARIS: France has repatriated 35 children and 16 mothers from camps in Syria where family members of suspected Daesh terrorists have been held, the foreign ministry said in Paris.
“France has today undertaken the return to the country of 35 French minors who were in camps in northeast Syria. This operation also includes the return of 16 mothers from these same camps,” a statement said, adding that the minors were handed over to child protection services while the mothers would face judicial proceedings.


Israel PM visits France with Lebanon gas row topping agenda

Updated 05 July 2022

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  • Yair Lapid took over the premiership on Friday following the collapse of Israel’s coalition government

TEL AVIV: Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid departed on his first foreign trip in office Tuesday to France, where he will ask for backing on a gas dispute with Lebanon that days ago saw Israel shoot down three Hezbollah drones.

Lapid took over the premiership on Friday following the collapse of Israel’s coalition government, which will see the country return to the polls in November for its fifth election in less than four years.

The new leader was confronted with his first test a day later, when Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement launched three drones toward an offshore gas field in the eastern Mediterranean.

Speaking before his departure from Tel Aviv, Lapid said he will raise the matter with French President Emmanuel Macron.

“We will also discuss of course what has occurred recently off the coast of Lebanon,” Lapid said.

“There have been repeated attacks on Israeli gas rigs. Israel will not accept this type of attacks on its sovereignty.”

Lebanon rejects Israel’s claim that the Karish gas field lies within its territorial waters.

Israel and Lebanon resumed negotiations on their maritime border in 2020, though the Karish site sits outside of the disputed area and is marked as Israeli on previous United Nations maps.

The US-backed talks have been stalled by Beirut’s demand that the UN maps must be modified.

Hezbollah’s backers Iran will also be on the agenda at the bilateral talks in Paris, as Israel stands firmly opposed to international efforts to revive a nuclear accord with Tehran.

“It’s important that our position against this agreement is heard,” Lapid said Tuesday.

Israeli officials fear that giving Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program could allow Tehran to boost funding to Hezbollah, as well as the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

A senior Israeli official said the Lebanon gas issue will be high on agenda during talks at the Elysee Palace in Paris.

“We will ask France to intervene to secure the negotiations that we want to lead until the end of the gas issues,” the official told journalists traveling with the premier.

Lapid’s Paris visit comes days ahead of US President Joe Biden traveling to Israel and the Palestinian territories, before flying to Saudi Arabia for energy talks.

Washington is seeking to stabilize the global energy market following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which led Moscow to cut its gas supplies to some European countries.

Israel and Egypt signed a deal last month to boost gas exports to the European Union, as the bloc attempts to end its dependency on Russian energy.

“The Lebanon issue is essential and Lapid will come back to the Israeli position, according to which Hezbollah is first and foremost a threat to the future of Lebanon,” said the Israeli official, who requested anonymity.

Israel and Lebanon remain technically at war but agreed to talks aimed at delineating their maritime border to allow both countries to boost gas exploration.


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Updated 04 July 2022

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CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry headed to London to inaugurate the first partnership council between his country and the UK.

The council will be co-chaired by Shoukry and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. It will include political consultations and discussions on economic and trade issues, with the participation of British Trade Policy Minister Penny Mordaunt.

A spokesman for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said the launch of the council comes in light of strengthening cooperation between the two countries in various fields.

While in London, Shoukry met with Lord Tariq Ahmad, British minister for South Asia, North Africa, the UN and the Commonwealth, to discuss bilateral relations.

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US offers cash rewards to curb Iran smuggling

Updated 05 July 2022

US offers cash rewards to curb Iran smuggling

  • Navy targets weapons and drugs in Arabian Gulf and Red Sea

JEDDAH: The US Navy is offering cash rewards of up to $100,000 for information leading to the interception of smuggled weapons and narcotics in the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea.

The initiative by the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet does not directly name Iran but analysts said it was clearly aimed at curbing the flow of Iranian arms to the Houthi militia in Yemen and restricting the lucrative regional drugs trade operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“Any destabilizing activity has our attention,” 5th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins said. “Definitely we have seen in the last year skyrocketing success in seizing both illegal narcotics and illicit weapons. This represents another step in our effort to enhance regional maritime security.”
Operators fluent in Arabic, English and Farsi will staff a phone hotline, and the Navy will also take tips online in Dari and Pashto. Payouts can be as high as $100,000 or the equivalent in vehicles, boats or food for tips that include information on planned attacks targeting Americans.
Asked whether new seizures could increase tensions with Iran, Hawkins listed the weapons and drugs the Navy hoped to intercept under the program. “That’s what we’re after,” he said. “That’s not in the interest of regional stability and security.”

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

The fleet and its allies seized $500 million in drugs alone in 2021, more than the four previous years combined, and intercepted the shipment of 9,000 weapons, three times the number in 2020.
Despite a UN Security Council arms embargo on Yemen, Tehran has long been transferring rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, missiles and other weapons to the Houthis in Yemen. UN experts have examined missiles aimed at civilian targets and oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and traced the components back to Iran.
The rewards program is the latest initiative under 5th Fleet Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, who also launched a drone task force last year amid rising tension with Iran. The US Navy and Revolutionary Guard naval forces have had several encounters in the Strait of Hormuz.
The Houthis said last week they were monitoring increased US activity in the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf.“Because of this, defense and confrontation options are open,” a spokesman said.