Pakistan Deploys Artificial Rain To Combat Alarming Pollution In Lahore

Authorities in Pakistan point to industrial emissions, vehicle exhaust, and the burning of crop residue and waste as major contributors to air pollution.

In a pioneering move, Pakistan has implemented artificial rain for the first time to address the severe pollution crisis gripping the megacity of Lahore, long ranked among the world’s most polluted urban centres. The provincial government revealed that planes equipped with cloud-seeding technology were deployed over Lahore on Saturday to combat hazardous levels of smog.

The ‘gift’ of artificial rain, a novel approach for Pakistan, was facilitated by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which sent teams along with two planes equipped for cloud seeding. The operation involved the use of 48 flares to induce rain, an experiment closely monitored by local authorities.

Mohsin Naqvi, the caretaker chief minister of Punjab, shared that the artificial rain resulted in drizzles across at least 10 areas of Lahore. The move comes after various tactics, such as early business closures and extended school closures, failed to improve air quality in the city.

Despite initial scepticism, Naqvi reassured the public of the safety of artificial rain, citing the UAE’s extensive experience with over 1,000 annual missions involving similar technologies. Cloud seeding, also known as artificial rain or blue-skying, involves burning silver iodide in clouds with acetone to encourage condensation and rainfall.

Experts have indicated that even modest rain can be effective in reducing pollution levels. Lahore has been grappling with toxic smog, with PM2.5 pollutants—microscopic particles linked to cancer—measured at hazardous levels, surpassing World Health Organization limits by over 66 times.

The worsening air quality in Pakistan is attributed to a combination of low-grade diesel fumes, seasonal crop burning, and colder temperatures creating stagnant smog. Lahore, home to over 11 million residents, faces dire health consequences due to prolonged exposure to polluted air, including strokes, heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory ailments, according to the World Health Organization.

Authorities in Pakistan point to industrial emissions, vehicle exhaust, and the burning of crop residue and waste as major contributors to air pollution. The deployment of artificial rain is part of a broader strategy, with plans to install smog towers—large-scale air purifiers—in Lahore in the coming weeks.

Rising pollution levels in South Asia, fueled by growing industrialization, pose significant health risks. The inability of warm air to rise during cooler months exacerbates the problem, trapping pollutants closer to the ground. A report published in August highlighted that rising air pollution in South Asia could reduce life expectancy by more than five years per person.

Pakistan, while contributing less than 1 per cent of global carbon emissions, remains among the top 10 most climate-vulnerable nations. The use of artificial rain represents a proactive measure in the region’s battle against the escalating environmental and health challenges posed by pollution.