Saudi Arabia, the world’s richest oil nation but poorest in water, appears to be pushing ahead with plans to force clouds to rain to maximise its water resources.
Prince Turki bin Nasser, Chairman of Saudi Meteorology and Environment Protection Authority, said King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz had approved the plan, which could be the first artificial rain experiment in the Middle East.
Quoted by Arabic language daily Okaz, the Prince said details of the project would be presented at an environment forum in Jeddah this week.
“This is an advanced experiment to be carried out by the Kingdom with the aim of tackling the problem of water scarcity,” he said.
“Besides traditional techniques to obtain water, including sea water desalination and recycling, the Kingdom has been searching for other techniques. There is a strong interest by the leadership to embark on this experiment and evaluate its effects in finding a new element to boost reserves.”
Like other Gulf states, Saudi Arabia relies heavily on water desalination for drinking and irrigation. According to official estimates, desalination plants, which have cost hundreds of billions of dollars, provide nearly two-thirds of the region’s sweet water needs.
Regional states have spoken of plans to pump more investments to build new desalination projects and expand existing units to meet a five to 10 per cent growth in water consumption, among the highest in the world.
Besides such investments, regional governments are spending billions of dollars on the operation and maintenance of those projects, which dot the Gulf coastlines.
Speaking at an infrastructure conference in Abu Dhabi last month, a Saudi official said the Kingdom is planning to nearly $40 billion (Dh146bn) over the next 20 years to develop its water distribution network.
The funds include around $23bn in capital spending, while $17bn would be invested in operation and maintenance of the facilities, said Loay bin Ahmed Al Musallam, Deputy Minister for Planning and Development at the Saudi Ministry of Water and Electricity.
He said the investments are to prevent a shortage in water supplies given the high growth in consumption, estimated at six per cent. The rapid increase is due to the hot weather, high population growth and lack of conservation measures and public awareness.
Saudi plans artificial rain to boost water resources