Rain at all costs : Rain-seeding in the Middle East

In the absence of rainfall, the most vulnerable countries to aridity and global warming are turning to artificial means to water their land. Based on geo-engineering, cloud seeding involves injecting a chemical product into the clouds using aircraft. This innovation offers its instigators the possibility of rolling the dice of the meteorological cycle.

Re-greening deserts through technology : this is the aim of the many cloud seeding programs that are being developed in the Middle East.

Over the past decade, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has identified more than eighty cloud seeding projects around the world, notably in Asia, Africa and now in the Fertile Crescent.

Preserving this fertile status is indeed a major concern. While agriculture alone accounts for 80% of water consumption in the MENA region, according to the World Bank, water is running out.

In Saudi Arabia, long-term rainfall is less than one hundred millimetres, one of the lowest rates in the world. In the United Arab Emirates, the thermometer regularly registers the scorching heat of 113°F, justifying the inhabitants' unquenchable thirst.

The average Emirati consumes around 500 liters of water a day, three time more than the global average.

A scientific miracle : the invention of artificial rain and its entry into the MENA region

In the beginning was the war. The first instances of artificial rain were to be found in the military context of the Vietnam War, during Operation Popeye in 1962.

The United States was at the origin of this breakthrough, and later began reinvesting in this method for agricultural purposes: irrigating Western lands in California and Nevada. From the 1960s onwards, Israel in turn ventured into this Promethean enterprise. Like its near and far neighbors in the MENA GCC region, the Hebrew state is prone to drought.

After initial trials in northern Israel, new experiments were carried out in the Arabah desert, stretching from the Gulf of Aqaba to the southern Jordanian border. Although time-limited, the cloud-seeding missions have made a significant contribution to transforming this arid area into a climatic wonderland. Despite the scorching heat, agriculture is now flourishing in the Arabah. According to Noa Zer, Director of Resource Development for the Central Arabah Regional Council, more than 50% of the country's fresh produce is grown here.

Far from having its head in the clouds, Saudi Arabia has also embraced artificial rainfall. Saudi Arabia's significant agricultural export potential is worth noting. With 427,492 acres of arable land - by contrast with France's 66,718 acres - the Saudi Kingdom is well positioned to invest more in the rural sector. After the failure of a food self-sufficiency plan due to a lack of water resources, the government decided to launch a rain-fed seeding program.

At present, the process has been initiated on the outskirts of Riyadh as well as over the rocky Nejd highland, which national aircraft fly over to release silver iodide.

Dr Ayman Bin Ghulam, President of the National Meteorological Center, was keen to point out that the program should continue over the next five years and increase rainfall by up to 20%. Portrayed as a viable and environmentally-friendly option, artificial precipitation seems to align well with the precepts of Prince MBS's Vision 2030, in that it contributes to intensifying Saudi Arabia's vegetation cover as well as securing new streams of water.

“Whoever sows the rain, reaps the whirlwind”: is rain seeding risky ?

Could climate change be the answer to scientific hubris?

On April 17, Dubai airport was flooded. In just twenty-four hours, the desert country was engulfed by more than one hundred and twenty millimetres of water, the equivalent of two years' rain.

Qatar, Bahrain and the Principality of Oman were also hit by the deluge, with a total of twenty deaths. While inquisitive glances are turned towards the engineers behind the seeding programs, this may not be the case.

A survey by the Anelfa center tends to prove that silver iodide, the fundamental agent in rain seeding, is not harmful to the environment, given the small proportions used. What's more, rain seeding is based on the principle of early, controlled targeting, thus excluding cumulonimbus clouds, which are the most likely to trigger bad weather.

The cataclysm observed in the Gulf is therefore more likely to be the result of the chronic inversion of Pacific winds due to the El Niño phenomenon. Having already hit South Africa, the Sahel and Amazonia in 2023, El Niño continues to expand, redistributing rainfall over new areas as it sees fit.  

Combining technology and spirituality : rain and religious traditions

Beyond economic considerations and climatic concerns, artificial rain also has a spiritual dimension, responding precisely to a biannual prayer.

In Judaism, the festival of Chemini Atseret, celebrated in the heart of autumn, marks the beginning of the raining season. Also formulated as a daily blessing throughout the winter, Chemini Atseret is intended to express gratitude to the heavens for the abundance of water, while praying that the wind will continue to blow and that rain will continue to fall on the harvests.

The call for rain is also to be found in Christianity. Sabine, a Christian martyr from the 2nd century, is a saint to whom we can turn to invoke rain in times of drought.

A precious resource in every respect, rain is preserved and voluntarily triggered when necessary. And if it seems incongruous, even amusing, that in 2018, Iran should accuse the Emirates and Israel of “stealing its clouds”, alluding precisely to the artificial seeding operations, the scarcity of water resources and the creative spirit of 21st-century engineers reveal a new era in which the boundaries between nature and technology are becoming blurred.

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Picture Credits : https://oumma.com/emirats-arabes-unis-une-pluie-artificielle-experimentee-video/