Middle East: Water deficits continue on the Arabian Peninsula

September 20, 2016

The Big Picture
Water deficits ranging from moderate (5 to 10 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 the Levant and Saudi Arabia. Deficits are forecast for much of Turkey, western Georgia, Iraq, much of Iran, and the Arabian Peninsula. 

Even the desert has become drier - vast areas of Semnan Province in northeastern Iran, including the Khartouran desert region, are suffering the impacts of a multi-year drought. An exodus of young people from formerly livable desert communities to cities like Shahroud, where they fill low-skilled jobs and low-quality housing, has left the elderly back home struggling to survive.

Farther south in Iran's Kerman Province drought, over-extraction, and poor irrigation practices have turned many once-profitable pistachio farms to dust. A 2013 survey indicated that Kerman was losing around 20,000 hectares (49,400 acres) of pistachio farms every year to desertification. Pistachios remain an important export item in Iran, second only to crude oil. Farmers who can afford it or can secure loans have successfully switched to drip irrigation, using 70 percent less water. As in Semnan Province, young farm laborers from Kerman are moving to the cities.

Iran's cities, like Tehran, are facing their own water issues as migration puts a strain on water supplies and water pressure. And while conflict in Syria is the primary driver of population displacement, water security is also cited, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Forecast Breakdown
The overall progression of water anomalies forecast through May 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 considerably after October before becoming more severe again March through May. Some areas with both deficits and surpluses will gradually transition to primarily deficits.

As the September through November map illustrates, deficits are forecast to persist but with diminished severity in southern Turkey, the Levant, northern Saudi Arabia, and eastern Oman. However, the extent and severity of deficits will increase in southern Iraq; a broad area of Iran east of the Persian Gulf; Qatar; and Yemen. Deficits in Yemen may be especially widespread and severe in September and October. Extreme deficits are forecast on the Sakarya River in western Turkey in November.

From December through February deficits are expected to diminish in severity and extent throughout most of the Middle East. Exceptions include western Georgia, where deficits are forecast to be exceptional (greater than 40 years) in December; and, Turkey north of the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul west to Bulgaria where moderate (5 to 10 years) to exceptional deficits will persist.

After February deficits are forecast to re-emerge with greater severity across the Middle East.

(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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