Middle East: Water deficits forecast for the Levant & the Arabian Peninsula (August 17, 2016)

The Big Picture
Water deficits ranging from abnormal (3 to 5 years) to exceptional (greater than 40 years) are forecast for many parts of the Middle East, as the 12-month map (below) illustrates, with greatest extent and severity in Saudi Arabia. Deficits are also forecast for western and southern Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Jordan, southern Iraq, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and much of Iran, though of lesser severity. Surpluses are forecast in northeastern Turkey and along the Iraq-Iran border.

Stepping outside was like "walking into a fire," said a Basra resident as the temperature rose to 129F (53.9C) in this southern Iraqi city. "We're prisoners," said another, explaining that people rarely leave their homes during daylight. Crops have withered, workforce productivity has dropped, hospital admittances have increased, and GDP has fallen an estimated 10 to 20 percent. Daily power cuts are normal, and though mandatory official holidays have been declared, many government employees would rather come to an air-conditioned office than stay home.

The heat wave is not just affecting Iraq: Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, recorded an all-time high of nearly 126F (52.2C), and Mitribah, Kuwait hit 129.2F (54C). Some weather forecasters are predicting temperatures in the Gulf could reach 131F (55C) in the next few months. 

Iran's Lake Urmia - which has been drying up for decades and has lost more than 70 percent of its surface area in the past 14 years - turned from deep green to blood red in mid-July, the result of a higher salt concentration which breeds Dunaliella algae.

In its GIEWS Country Brief dated 19 July the FAO reported that fields in Central Anatolia, Cukurova and Southeast Turkey remained affected by drought conditions, resulting in lower yields of wheat and barley. Estimates from the Turkish Statistical Institute indicate a 10 percent decline in cereal production in 2016. The drought in Turkey has contributed to rising prices on fruits and vegetables in Romanian markets.

Heavy rain triggered flooding and landslides in Turkey's Black Sea province of Bartin, submerging homes, blocking roads, and washing cars into the sea.

Forecast Breakdown
The overall progression of water anomalies forecast through April 2017 – shown in the 3-month composites below - indicates that widespread water deficits will persist throughout the Middle East, but the severity of deficits will diminish after October. Areas with both deficits and surpluses will gradually transition to primarily deficits.

The August through October map shows the persistence of deficits on the Arabian Peninsula. In Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen exceptional deficits are expected to shrink but the extent of severe (10 to 20 years) to exceptional deficits will remain substantial. Severe to exceptional deficits will continue to emerge in a broad area of Iran east of the Persian Gulf, while farther north near Turkmenistan deficits will become more severe. Deficits in Yemen may be especially widespread and severe in September.

Deficits in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria are forecast to diminish in severity. Conditions in Turkey will improve slightly, and a pocket of moderate (5 to 10 years) water surplus is forecast to emerge in western Turkey in October.

From November on, deficits in the Middle East are expected to be less severe than in prior months, but will remain widespread.

(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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