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June 26, 2018

The business of rainmaking


June 26, 2018

A recent meeting of the provincial cabinet in Balochistan ended with the decision to use artificial rain technology in the province. Balochistan, which is the largest province of Pakistan by area, has been facing the looming threat of droughts due to rapidly declining levels of underground water.

According to the May 2018 Drought Situation Analysis report, which was released by the National Drought Monitoring Center (NDMC), drought conditions prevail across western Balochistan. Most parts of Balochistan have experienced temperatures above 35 degrees Celsius, and high temperatures have further aggravated the moisture stress condition. Moreover, shifting weather patterns have caused less rainfall than normal in the province, prompting the government to adopt an out-of-the-box approach. A Russian firm called the Climate Global Control Trading Company has been contracted for this purpose. According to its profile, the company has completed successful projects in the UAE (by creating a cyclone – no, seriously) and Iran.

Artificial rain can be achieved through two main techniques. The first method is cloud seeding, which involves spreading chemical crystals in clouds that cause condensation and eventually rain. Cloud seeding is done through airplanes that spread silver iodide, dry ice, or calcium chloride to make clouds dispense more rain.

Another method that was tested last year in Pakistan is electromagnetic distribution. Small amounts of electromagnetic energy are used to adjust the path of clouds, causing them to travel over areas where rain is most needed. This phenomenon, which is referred to as electromagnetic shifting, is what will be used to cause artificial rain in Gwadar and Makran.

Rain is undoubtedly a welcome guest in a hot, arid country like ours. Artificial rain brings with it a number of benefits. The biggest advantage of artificial rain is immediate relief in drought-hit areas. The significance particularly increases when you consider the nomadic population of Balochistan – many of whom are dependent on raising livestock. Artificial rain will undoubtedly serve as a lifeline for securing their livelihoods. Another major advantage is that depleted water reservoirs, including lakes, and underground water will both be recharged effectively through rain at or near water bodies. Water levels in dams will also be effectively raised through artificial rain, providing a long-term reservoir for future use.

There are also a few disadvantages of artificial rain. While the phenomenon of electromagnetic rainmaking is believed to be “controllable”, the reality is that there is no telling what type of weather can form as a result. Take the example of the Climate Global Control Trading Company’s efforts in causing Cyclone Ashooba in the UAE, where heavy rains were accompanied by winds of 82 kilometres per hour. Sure, it did rain. But at what cost? Can Balochistan’s infrastructure and vulnerable population bear intense weather?

Another important point to note is that the proposed method of electromagnetic shifting, which will be utilised in Balochistan, will place a heavy burden on the electrical grid. Add to that the costs of installing specialised electromagnetic technology and hosting a team of specialists for the duration of the mission, and the costs are likely to go sky-high.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO)’s documents from a 2015 meeting of expert teams on weather modification research state that: “Weather modification technologies that claim to achieve large scale or dramatic effects do not have a sound scientific basis and should be treated with suspicion”. While I am in no way trying to dampen the mood here, let’s wait and see what actually happens before we get all excited about a hara bhara Balochistan.

A large number of scientific initiatives from the US to Australia are discovering untapped possibilities of drought control through artificial rain. According to the WMO, over 50 countries currently have some form of cloud-seeding operation for artificial rain. Moreover, the National Centre for Meteorology and Seismology, which is based in the UAE, has been using cloud seeding technology for several years now. How effective will electromagnetic rainmaking be? We can’t wait to find out.

The writer is a monitoring and evaluation specialist. Email: [email protected]

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