Royal Thai rain-making operation launched

Thailand on Tuesday began a cloud-seeding campaign overseen by the king to alleviate a severe drought that has dried up reservoirs and baked rice paddies across the world’s number-one rice exporter, senior officials said.

The rain-making operation, personally supervised by Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is to focus first on the country’s impoverished north-east, where all 19 provinces are wilting under conditions that could see thousands of villages imperilled by lack of water.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Newin Chidchob said the number of aircraft planned for use in cloud-seeding operations has more than doubled as authorities struggle to bring about rains months ahead of the wet season.

“In today’s operation, we are using 45 aircraft and the amount of chemicals used will be doubled,” he said.

Seeding involves the use of chemicals, including sodium chloride or calcium chloride, to generate rainfall in clouds.

King Bhumibol, who holds a patent on the cloud-seeding technique used in Thailand, expressed his concern over the drought earlier this month.

At least 71 out of 76 total provinces are suffering from the worst drought in several years in Thailand.

About 11-million people in 44 519 villages, or 60% of the country’s village total, have been affected, according to interior ministry figures. Farmers’ crops have withered and village residents have experienced water shortages.

Disaster zones have been declared in 10 hardest-hit areas.

“We admit that drought is very serious this year,” particularly in the north-east, Newin told reporters.

Cloud-seeding is expected to continue throughout the year except during the rainy season, which normally comes in late May or June.

The north-east will see the number of bases used for cloud-seeding tripled from one to three, in Khon Kaen, Ubon Ratchathani and Nakhon Ratchasima provinces, he said.

Wattana Karnchanaset, director of the agriculture ministry’s bureau of royal rainmaking and agricultural aviation, warned that cloud-seeding cannot be counted on as a panacea for drought.

“It will solve problems to some extent but not the whole issue,” he said.

At least 2,19-million hectares of farmland have been ruined at a cost of 7,5-billion baht ($194,4-million). Crops on another 1,89-million hectares worth $153-million are expected to die as well, the interior ministry said.

Authorities on Monday urged people to save water, particularly during the country’s most popular event, the Thai New Year Songkran festival in April, when people pour water on each other.—Sapa-AFP

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