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The artificial rain project is no more than an experiment

Friday August 5 2011

By RICHARD SAMSON ODINGO

I was surprised by claims by a group of scientists who visited Nairobi last week, under the company name Aquiess.

They offered to bring to the region global rainfall technology, promising to break the current drought in our region by bringing “gentle soaking rain to the region within the next 90 days.”

The group claimed to own a technology which involves the “application of small amounts of electromagnetic energy applied intelligently” and technology that can adjust the path of rain-bearing clouds.

What made me curious was the assertion that they would bring rain to the region within 90 days.

Anybody who lives in this region knows our rain patterns; under normal circumstances, we expect a change by October-November.

These scientists were even talking about the entire greater Horn of Africa, including Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, and even Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.

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These proposals, coming at a desperate time in the middle of one of the worst droughts in 60 years, was bound to appeal to the desperate governments of the region.

Weather modification technology is being discussed by scientists around the world, but it is strictly still experimental.

It raises the suspicion that developed countries, unwilling to pay the big sums of money being discussed at climate change meetings, like the forthcoming COP 17 in South Africa later this year, want to create a diversion by putting on the table an alternative to the reduction of green house gases, which have been agreed at the various COPs, including those at Cancun in Mexico at the end of 2010.

It is true that for more than 50 years, there have been efforts to control the weather without much success, even here in Kenya.

In Kericho, with silver iodide crystals, Kenyan scientists used small rockets to seed cumulonimbus clouds to reduce hail damage to the tea crop, only to shift the hail damage a few kilometres down wing to small-scale farms maize farms in nearby locations. After some years, these cloud seeding efforts were abandoned.

The country with the most extensive experiments on cloud seeding is China, but even there the results are disappointing.

Therefore the much touted Aquiess Project is a mere experiment.

If their system works so well for Qatar, or the dry areas of Australia, why not use it to bring rain to the desert before coming to offer the technology to the poor countries of East Africa?

The truth is, they want to use our region for experiments, and to offer their results, if successful, to the planned COP in South Africa later this year.

Is it not curious that the consortium should come from a major coal exporting country, namely, Australia, and an oil exporting country, namely, Qatar?

Why are they requesting the donors to bankroll their experiment?

And how do they explain to the donors how at the height of the Monsoon season in South Asia, they are going to “coax the rain clouds” to move in the opposite direction, to the Horn of Africa rather than carry their rain to India and Pakistan?

If indeed the scientists have such a forceful project, why are they afraid to take their results to the World Meteorological Organisation, and to its World Climate Research Programme, or when they were in Nairobi, why did they not go to the UNEP?

Incidentally, these two bodies are the parents of the Nobel Peace Prize winning Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change.

The behaviour of weather systems in GHA countries is well understood, thanks to ICPAC and the international weather forecasting centres.

We know that the La Nina phase, which brought the intolerable drought, is beginning to wane, and come October (90 days), we may get the beginnings of a recovery.

It is, indeed, painful to play with the psychology of regional governments currently trying to respond to the worst drought in 60 years.

Richard Samson Odingo is a professor in the department of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Nairobi.

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