King Rainmaker flies in to end Thai drought

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The Independent Online

Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej has said he will personally oversee an artificial rain-making scheme in an attempt to release the country from a crippling drought.

Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej has said he will personally oversee an artificial rain-making scheme in an attempt to release the country from a crippling drought.

The cloud-seeding technique invented by the 77-year-old monarch, revered by his subjects as a demigod, uses aircraft to release silver iodide chemicals that "seed" warm and cold clouds simultaneously at different altitudes to trigger precipitation. "No one else in the world knows rain-making better than His Majesty," the Deputy Agriculture Minister, Newin Chidchob, said.

Seventeen additional military planes will fly from 22 cloud-seeding bases across the country in the effort to revive 70 of Thailand's 76 provinces suffering their worst water shortages in a decade. Besides the drought, in many areas drinking water was ruined by salt water blasted inland by the Boxing Day tsunami.

King Bhumibol is keen on environmental issues, and often tours the hinterlands. He has initiated numerous pollution control schemes, alternative energy projects, as well as land and water-management programmes during nearly six decades on the throne. The "super sandwich" rain-making method is one of four scientific inventions he has patented.

In the past six months, water shortfalls have affected 8.3 million Thais, and 10 zones in the normally green northern province of Chiang Mai have been declared disaster areas. Agricultural output has suffered, reservoirs are evaporating quickly, and more than 5,000 forest fires have blazed.

Temporary relief is to be provided by 6,000 new wells being drilled in rural areas. But hopes for a second rice-crop this year have been dashed by the severity of this drought, and cash crops have been withering. If water at hydro-electric dams falls any further, electricity generation will be at risk, government officials said.

The drought has spread to neighbouring countries. Impoverished Cambodia, suffering from a second year of drought, is seeking foreign aid. Water levels have dropped far below normal in the mighty Mekong river and many subsistence farmers have little hope of harvests.

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