Middle East: Widespread water deficits of varying severity

19 December 2016

The Big Picture
The 12-month forecast (below) indicates widespread water deficits of varying severity in the Middle East, including some areas of exceptional deficits. Pockets of exceptional deficits are forecast in Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Small pockets of water surplus are forecast along Turkey’s northeast coast and in Iran and southern Azerbaijan along the Caspian Sea. 

New research published in the journal Nature, supported by analysis of more than 3 million satellite images collected over the last 32 years, indicates that 70 percent of global water loss occurred in the Middle East and Central Asia – a loss of permanent surface water equal to an area nearly 90,000 square kilometers.

Iran’s average rainfall for autumn 2016 plummeted by 74 percent compared to last year, according to a report by Tasnim News Agency, the highest drop in 47 years. The report also noted that water levels in Iran’s reservoirs fell by 50 percent during the period. The country’s energy minister has warned that more than 500 cities face a shortage of drinking water.

In late December the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned that four million people in Damascus and surrounding areas have been cut off from two primary sources of drinking water – Wadi Barada and Ain-el-Fijah – since 22 December, the result of deliberate, targeted damage to infrastructure.

Forecast Breakdown
The overall progression of water anomalies forecast through August 2017, shown in the 3-month composites below, indicates that widespread water deficits will persist throughout the Middle East, first diminishing in severity through February before increasing in both extent and severity thereafter.

The December through February forecast indicates a significant improvement over the widespread exceptional water deficits – shown in dark red – of the prior months. However, moderate to severe deficits are forecast for central Turkey; Cyprus; Lebanon; Iraq west of the Euphrates River; central and southern Iran (particularly, northern Sistan and Baluchestan Province); Saudi Arabia; United Arab Emirates; and western Yemen. Pockets of exceptional deficits are forecast near Ash Shamli, Hail Province, Saudi Arabia; and southwest Yemen on the Gulf of Aden.

From March through May the extent and severity of deficits will increase throughout the region, from moderate deficits to more areas with severe deficits. Conditions will also transition from normal to moderate or severe deficit in western and southeastern Turkey and central Yemen. Notice the change in central Yemen from white in the December through February forecast to orange – indicating the emergence of severe deficits. Extreme deficits are forecast to emerge in southern Oman.

After May the forecast indicates the persistence of widespread deficits throughout the region and the emergence of increasingly severe deficits in Iran.

(It should be noted that forecast skill declines with longer lead times.)


Many analyses reported in ISciences-authored blog posts are based on data generated by the ISciences Water Security Indicator Model (WSIM). Other sources, if used, are referenced in footnotes accompanying individual posts. WSIM is a validated capability that produces monthly reports on current and forecast global freshwater surpluses and deficits with lead times of 1-9 months at 0.5°x0.5° resolution. This capability has been in continuous operation since April 2011 and has proven to provide reliable forecasts of emerging water security concerns in that time-frame. WSIM has the ability to assess the impacts of water anomalies on people, agriculture, and electricity generation. Detailed data, customized visualizations, and reports are available for purchase.

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