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Jakarta Government Plans To Create Manmade Rain To Solve Air Pollution Problem

Jakarta is notorious for its unclean air, but becoming the city with the world’s worst air pollution took it to the next level. Can man-made rain fix this?

by Ikhwan Hastanto; translated by Jade Poa
15 July 2019, 10:45pm

A plane releasing man-made rain [left] Photo: Sukree Sukplang/Reuters; Jakarta pollution photographed by Willy Kurniawan/Reuters

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia

Last week, Jakarta became the city with the world’s worst air pollution, ahead of cities like Bangkok, Mumbai, and Shanghai. The abysmally poor air quality has given rise to a class action citizen’s lawsuit against President Joko Widodo and Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan.

After the lawsuit gained some traction, the Jakarta government responded with an interesting solution: use weather modifying technology to induce manmade rain.

Hammam Riza, head of the Technology Application and Assessment Agency (BPPT), has since approved the plan. He said governor Anies Baswedan aims to execute the plan between July 10 and 15, and is ready to move forward with BPPT approval.

But how does manmade rain address air pollution? Head of the Weather Modification Technology Agency (BPPT), Tri Handoko Seto, cites success stories of using manmade rain to address air pollution in Thailand, China, South Korea, and India.

“In 2015, Thailand successfully conducted a cloud-seeding test run in response to air pollution in Bangkok, removing the inversion layer,” Seto told Kompas.

Here’s how it’s supposed to go down. When it rains, the intensity of air pollution goes down. Pollutants attach to the rain, which washes them away. Jakarta’s regional government called for the BPPT to execute the technology immediately, since the school year begins on Monday, July 15.

Seto said three manmade rain scenarios will be tested in Jakarta. First, the BPPT will conduct “cloudseeding” using NaCl salt if clouds are present. Second, if no clouds are present, they will seed dry ice to remove the inversion layer, which will induce rain. The third test involves spraying water in the atmosphere using Airforce planes.

Pollution in Jakarta is a complex problem caused by a myriad of accumulating environmental issues. According to a Sanitary and Environmental Services spokesperson, most of Jakarta’s air pollution is due to transportation.

“75 percent of pollutants come from transportation, otherwise they come from industrial and domestic activities,” Andono told CNN Indonesia. This percentage could worsen, considering the number of new vehicles that hit Jakarta’s streets daily.

Transportation isn’t the only issue. The dry season also plays a significant role in the city’s air quality; a lower frequency of rain means less sweeping away of pollutants. “It’s true that in the dry season, pollutants can accumulate when rainfall is reduced,” Suradi, a BMKG spokesperson said.

Various ongoing infrastructure projects and the burning of fossil fuels by the industrial sector add to the long list of reasons Jakarta is so smoggy. A day before Ramadan this year, Jakarta’s Air Quality Index score reached 210, meaning dangerously polluted.

There are, of course, some skeptics, including Greenpeace Indonesia’s Climate and Energy Campaign. They claim manmade rain is a short-term solution that does nothing to address the source of pollutants.

“If they don’t even know where the pollutants are coming from, and we just spray away, we have no way of knowing which of them dissolved, which didn’t, and which will just get released back into the air,” Bondan Ariyanu, a Greenpeace Indonesia spokesperson, told local media.