In a first, Punjab govt uses artificial rain against smog

Published December 16, 2023
A photo of the plane used in the cloud setting endeavour in Lahore on Saturday. — Photo courtesy Punjab government
A photo of the plane used in the cloud setting endeavour in Lahore on Saturday. — Photo courtesy Punjab government

In a first experiment of its kind, caretaker Punjab government on Saturday used artificial rain in a bid to combat hazardous levels of smog in Lahore.

Planes equipped with cloud seeding equipment were flown over 10 areas of the city, often ranked one of the worst places globally for air pollution.

Caretaker Punjab Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi said the “gift” was provided by the United Arab Emirates.

“Celebrating a groundbreaking moment in Lahore — the first-ever artificial rainfall to combat smog! Heartfelt thanks to the UAE government for their support, making our environment a priority without straining the provincial exchequer,” he said in a post on social media platform X.

“Teams from the UAE, along with two planes, arrived here about 10 to 12 days ago. They used 48 flares to create the rain,” he told the media.

He said the team would know by tonight what effect the “artificial rain” had.

Naqvi further said that the federal government and its departments had also extended their cooperation in the effort.

He said the Water and Sanitation Agency and Lahore Development Authority were also put on high alert.

“We hope that the Air Quality Index will improve due to artificial rainfall. After mastering the process of artificial rainfall, we will share it with other provinces as well,” Naqvi said.

The UAE has increasingly used cloud seeding, sometimes called artificial rain or blue-skying, to create rain in the arid expanse of the country.

The weather modification involves releasing common salt — or a mixture of different salts — into clouds.

The crystals encourage condensation to form as rain. It has been deployed in dozens of countries, including the United States, China and India.

Even very modest rain is effective in bringing down pollution, experts say.

Air pollution has worsened in Pakistan in recent years, as a mixture of low-grade diesel fumes, smoke from seasonal crop burning and colder winter temperatures coalesce into stagnant clouds of smog.

Lahore suffers the most from the toxic smog, choking the lungs of more than 11 million residents during the winter season.

Levels of PM2.5 pollutants — cancer-causing microparticles that enter the bloodstream through the lungs — were measured as hazardous in Lahore on Saturday at more than 66 times the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) danger limits.

Breathing the poisonous air has catastrophic health consequences. Prolonged exposure can trigger strokes, heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory diseases, according to the WHO.

Successive governments have used various methods to reduce air pollution in Lahore, including spraying water on the roads, and weekend shutdowns of schools, factories, and markets, with little or no success.

When asked about a long-term strategy to combat smog, the chief minister said the government needs studies to formulate a plan.

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