Africa: Exceptional water deficits in Sub-Saharan Africa to moderate somewhat

September 21, 2016

The Big Picture
Widespread water deficits are forecast across northern Africa, as seen in the 12-month map for June 2016 through May 2017 (below), along with scattered pockets of both deficits and surpluses. Deficits of varying severity are expected across much of the remainder of the continent, but may be most widespread or severe in: Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Namibia, Zambia, and Malawi.

After widespread drought decimated the 2015/16 harvests in southern Africa, a seed shortage could threaten the 2016/17 crop production, exacerbating critical food stress in Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries. Seed reserves were depleted by drought or consumed as food. The SADC is facing a cereal deficit of 9.3 million metric tonnes and humanitarian agencies have requested US$2.7 billion in aid.

Food producers in South Africa are reporting declines in earnings due to drought conditions. RCL Foods, the country's largest poultry producer, reported a decline of 11.9 percent in headline earnings per share citing reduced feed supply and higher feed costs. Astral Foods, another leading poultry producer, is anticipating a 70 percent decline in profits. Current estimates for South Africa's maize crop forecast a 26.6 percent lower harvest.

Joburg Water, Johannesburg's water authority, has announced water price increases between 10 and 30 percent, as the Vaal River System which supplies the city has dropped below a 60 percent designated threshold.

The drought leaves many women in Africa increasingly open to exploitation. To feed themselves and their children some resort to prostitution for income, while for others it is the only way to pay back extortionary loans

Since June flooding in Niger has left 38 people dead, 92,000 homeless, and 26,000 livestock lost. 

Forecast Breakdown
Though the extent of exceptional deficits (greater than 40 years) in Africa is forecast to shrink from September through November, as seen in the 3-month map below, much of the continent will remain in conditions of deficit, notably: Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. Both deficits and surpluses are expected scattered across the north in parts of the Sahara and the Sahel, and along parts of the White Nile in South Sudan. Deficits trace red paths on the map along many rivers including: the Congo, Lualaba, and Luyua in DRC; Victoria Nile in Uganda; Galana in Kenya; Juba in Somalia; and Okavango in Botswana. Surpluses are forecast to persist in Burkina Faso, Northwest Province in Cameroon, southern Sudan and eastern South Sudan, and especially Tanzania.

From December through February nearly all of Africa is forecast to experience some degree of water deficit, though less severe than in prior months. Primarily moderate (5 to 10 years) deficits, along with scattered small pockets of extreme (20 to 40 years) deficits, are forecast from the northernmost countries down through the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Southern Africa is forecast to experience milder deficits during this period.

The forecast for March through May shows an increase in the severity of deficits across northern Africa and the persistence of less severe deficits in the south.

(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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