China‘s boom in industry and population has put a strain on its natural resources – not to mention the health of the environment – over the past few decades. In order to alleviate the stress of growing crops for an ever-increasing population, the government is intervening with nature by rolling out four regional programs to artificially increase precipitation across the country by 10 percent before 2015. The program, which was included in the newly released 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), is anticipated to bring in an additional 230 billion cubic meters of precipitation per year. This is on top of the 50 billion China already artificially creates annually in the northeastern province of Jilin.
Each year, an average of 3 trillion cubic meters of water passes over China in clouds, and only 20 percent of it falls to the ground, according to the China Meteorological Administration. And as extreme weather events such as drought and flooding afflict regions, damaging crops, protecting and providing adequate water for the nation’s farming areas have become of the utmost importance. Moreover, China has set another plan to boost its annual grain yield to 550 million tons by 2020 (though that target was exceeded this year with a record 571 million tons) and this rainmaking initiative will ensure that this marker is kept.
“Because clouds are boundless, weather control is boundless. The five regional weather control programs will coordinate the ground resources, such as the cloud seeding rockets and planes, across provinces to increase potential rain or snow,” said Zheng Jiangping, deputy director of the CMA’s department of emergency response, disaster mitigation and public services emergency management told China Daily, a state-run newspaper.
The use of cloud seeding is nothing new to China. The method of rainmaking involves the the injection of silver iodide particles into the atmosphere that stimulate precipitation. In the past, seeding helped clear pollution from Beijing before the 2008 Olympics, but it has also led to grave results in other instances. In 2009, cloud seeding was attributed as the main cause of a massive blizzard that dumped some of the heaviest snow experienced in five decades in China’s usually arid north. Seeding created 16 million metric tons of additional snow, causing $650 million in damage and killing more than 40 people.
Whether this plan can be considered sustainable or even safe, the government appears to be unflinching with its mandates.