Accelerating climate change threatens almost half of the world’s population with high water stress by 2030, according to the United Nations.
Last year’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that increased carbon emissions could significantly reduce renewable surface water and groundwater resources in dry subtropical regions. Much of the projected total global population increase of three billion over the next three decades will occur in developing countries, putting severe pressure on already limited supplies of fresh water.
At the same time, for the arid countries of the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, water sustainability has become one of their most urgent economic and security challenges, given projected demand from rapidly expanding populations. With groundwater supplies decreasing rapidly throughout the Mena region, the consequent rise in production of desalinated water is imposing further energy costs that are already straining national budgets. As water security is an essential element of national security, there is an increasing imperative for countries to strengthen their water resilience by promoting research and development, investment in new technologies, more efficient resource conservation and effective international partnerships.
In this context, scientists and technologists can and will play a role, especially in tackling global security challenges. The UAE wants to make a difference by providing real support and encouragement to our best scientific minds: This is evident from the national leadership’s inclusion of water security as one of the seven pillars of the UAE’s National Innovation Strategy.
The UAE has thus clearly signalled that it wants to be an enabler and a catalyst in order to stir scientific debate and promote technological breakthroughs for the benefit of all.
For arid regions, rain enhancement could offer a viable, cost-effective supplement to existing water supplies. Recent technological developments offer the potential of using rainfall augmentation as an important supplement to existing sources of groundwater and desalinated water. The UAE is among a select group of national governments leading the way in promoting such innovation.
Cloud seeding offers sufficient potential for regional governments to develop a new tool in their quest to ensure water security. To encourage research in this promising field, the UAE has authorised the National Centre of Meteorology and Seismology (NCMS) to oversee a $5 million (Dh18.39 million) grant to encourage scientists and researchers to seek innovative solutions for rain enhancement science and technology. One of the programme’s objectives is the development of techniques to improve the efficiency and predictive capabilities of targeted cloud seeding operations.
Although the immediate aim of this initiative is to increase UAE’s rainfall and enhance freshwater supply, the intention is to generate results that could have wider applications for countries that might benefit from advances in rain augmentation technology.
The programme already has a significant international impact. Since the UAE Research Programme for Rain Enhancement Science was launched in January 2015, the initiative has already built links with numerous research institutions through ongoing outreach, engaging with more than 450 researchers from more than 200 global institutions.
The programme’s second cycle in 2016 saw continued high-profile participation in major intergovernmental and international scientific forums such as the COP 22 Climate Change Conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, and the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting.
Through innovation inspired by the imperative of securing sustainable water supplies, rain enhancement is likely to become an increasingly important part of national water management strategies in arid regions. The UAE Research Programme for Rain Enhancement Science is already leading the way in encouraging scientists to cooperate to push the frontiers of research, development and innovation and ensure that rain enhancement contributes to a more complete portfolio for water security.
Effective international research partnerships can provide a platform for innovation to help drive the fulfilment of the policy goals set by governments and international organisations. Cooperation between the major stakeholders in water sustainability also serves the broader goal of building knowledge-based regional economies and maximising the potential of the region’s human capital.
By playing our part in facilitating scientific and intellectual advancement, we can look forward to increasing the momentum of rain enhancement innovation and ensuring its application to strengthen global water security and ensure the fair distribution of this precious resource.
Our task now is to bolster international cooperation to guarantee that the potential of scientific research in fields such as rain enhancement is fully realised to ensure water security for humanity as a whole.
Alya Al Mazroui is the programme manager for the UAE Research Programme for Rain Enhancement Science.