“We can change climate change”: Weathertec founder
CAPE TOWN – The ability to change climate change is what Weathertec founder and Chief Executive Officer Helmut Fluhrer is offering African governments. During a three year project in arid Jordan, Weathertec increased rainfall by 27% above the 30-year average at a time when other countries in the region suffered an 8% decline below the long-term average.
“We can change climate change. We can take you back 50 years to when rain was regular and abundant. We believe access to water should be a human right and we can provide that access at a price that is far cheaper than other ways such as desalination and at a faster speed as it only takes us three months to set up our systems,” Fluhrer said at a panel discussion on Africa’s Climate Change Challenge at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town.
Droughts and severe weather have become more common in the past few years as global warming has raised the average temperature. Cyclone Idai, for example, which struck Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe will cost more than $2 billion to repair the damage, yet only 7% of those costs will be provided for by insurance companies as the vast majority of the survivors cannot afford insurance coverage.
Weathertec only deals with governments, which in the case of South Africa, could be provincial governments, as their footprint is so large, normally some 5 000 square kilometers. This large footprint on the other hand means that the cost of a cubic meter of water is measured in terms of US cents, rather than the dollars per cubic meter that the competing technologies of cloud seeding and desalination cost.
Apart from costs that are far lower, Weathertec also does not require a capital outlay, so the R400m for planes and other equipment that cloud seeding requires or the R1 billion or more that a desalination plant costs, is not required. Weathertec instead bring in their own equipment which consists of ground radar, solar panels, ionisation units and aerosols, as the Weathertec technology mimics the natural convection formation of rain clouds. There is then a monthly charge of some R30 million, which is easily recouped from the additional economic activity and resultant job creation that increased rain brings about.
In the case of Jordan there was a 30% increase in rain-fed grains such as wheat and barley, while more rain improved crop yields for fruit trees, livestock was better fed and fatter and there was less need to import animal fodder. Dams were full for the first time in 40 years, while biodiversity increased and there was more abundant wildlife.
Beat Strebel, the head of Middle East and Africa for Swiss Re said climate change was here and now and its impact was massive with an event such as Idai wiping out 20 years of progress in a matter of days.
“I saw for myself the pain and the courage of the survivors. We need to rebuild the houses and the roads, but that comes at a cost,” he said.
Danny Faure, the President of the Seychelles, expressed sympathy for the people of the Bahamas, which was suffering from Hurricane Dorian this week.
He said the Green Fund needed to be replenished as the lack of water could lead to wars about water.
“We need to act now, otherwise we are all losers. We need to implement decisions and our partners need to provide the money that they have pledged,” he said.
Andiswa Mlisa, the Managing Director of Earth Observation at the South African National Space Agency said that tech companies have the solutions, but as there was so much to do, in many cases there was not enough funds to do all that was required to improve the resilience of nations and their disaster response infrastructure.