Royal rainmaking flights raising dam levels amid drought

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As Thailand struggles with one of the worst droughts in decades, precipitation induced by over 500 cloud seeding flights under the Royal rainmaking program have contributed to adding 13 billion gallons of water to country’s dams, easing the plight of farmers, as the government unveiled plans to kick start the rural economy.

The aviation units participating in cloud seeding were working since February 15 until just before the Songkran holiday in mid-April, which coincides with the hottest and driest time of the year. The various aircraft made 537 flights for a total of 760 hours. Their missions achieved a 76.9 percent success rate, increasing water in the dams and bringing rains to 41 provinces across the country, said Government Spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd.

Citizens were, nonetheless, still being urged to conserve water because the severe drought, brought on by a combination of an El Nino weather phenomenon and trends some attribute to climate change, is ongoing.

“This does not mean we can splurge water. We still need public cooperation to conserve water and we must thank farmers for switching to crops that use less water and refraining from off-season rice crops. This has helped us manage water to have enough for everyone this dry season,” Sansern said.

At the end of the monsoon season last November, the amount of water in major dams, including the Bhumibol, Sirikit, Pasak Jalasit and Kaew Noi Bamrung Daen dams, totaled 1.1 trillion gallons. The government is predicting the volume of water will remain at around 475 billion gallons from May until July, which is higher than the 343 billion gallons that had been expected, Sansern said.

The drought has been particularly hard on the country’s farmers, especially its rice farmers as cultivating rice is water intensive. The government shortened Songkran, or Buddhist New Year, celebrations, to conserve water because revelers enjoy throwing water at each as a way to beat the intense April heat.

Thailand’s constitutional monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej began working with the government in the 1960s to experiment with cloud seeding as a means of inducing precipitation. The King cautioned, however, that it could not replace the need for an effective irrigation system, especially in the arid northeast. Cloud seeding can only produce rain when conditions allow, he noted.

“While Thailand’s royal rainmaking was rooted in science, it also neatly dovetailed with ancient concepts of Thai kingship,’’ wrote Julian Gearing in the book King Bhumibol Adjulyadej.  A Life’s Work. “The image of the king trying to bring rain to the farmers held much symbolic power.”

Meanwhile, the government announced it would set up social enterprise companies in each province that will combine private sector expertise, community know-how and public funds to develop rural businesses and communities.

The focus will be on agriculture, agro-product processing and tourism and be run on business principles and practices. Each enterprise will have a managing board led by a person working in civil society in the province, along with representatives of government and the private sector.

“The aim is to increase the incomes of rural people and help rural communities raise their standard of living, so we will use financial key performance indicators to measure the executives’ performance,” said Apichart Todilokwet, director general of the Community Development Department.