Africa: Water deficits persist, surpluses forecast for Botswana

31 January 2017

The Big Picture
Widespread deficits remain in the 12-month forecast for northern Africa from October 2016 through September 2017 with extreme to exceptional deficits in Algeria, Niger, and Libya.

Deficits are also forecast for many other parts of Africa but may be most severe in central Somalia, northern Mozambique, western Madagascar, southwest South Africa, and southwest Namibia. Extreme to exceptional surpluses are forecast at the intersection of Angola, Namibia, and Botswana.

The UN Food and Agricultural Agency says at least 12 million people across Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya are facing food and livelihood insecurity due to drought in the region. Failed rains in late 2016 resulted in poor pasture, 100,000 livestock deaths, low meat and milk production, and low harvests are being projected. As in the past, inhospitable conditions raise the specter of refugee flight to Europe.

The cost of food and electricity in Kenya is rising as drought continues, and water rationing in Nairobi has set the stage for exploitation by water vendors. Sugar cane growers in Mumias, West Kenya and Butali are anticipating heavy losses, forcing the harvest and crushing of immature cane.

Water restrictions are in effect in Mozambique's capital, Maputo, as a two-year drought continues to take its toll. Gender-equity is becoming one of its victims as girls are removed from school to tend crops and fetch water from increasingly long distances. Desperate parents marry off young daughters they can't feed.

The African Farmers Association of South Africa says that it will take months before the prices of maize and meat go down. Drought has left many farmers unable to service existing loans and unable to secure additional loans. Without government intervention their prospects for recovery are not good. 

As if drought wasn't devastating enough, invasive fall armyworms - which somehow jumped continents from South America - are decimating corn crops in Burundi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Experts speculate that the pests might have caught a ride on high-altitude wind streams that have altered course due to climate change.

Forecast Breakdown
The 3-month maps (below) show the evolving conditions in more detail. The extent of exceptional deficits across the continent will diminish during this period, though extreme deficits will continue to emerge across the Sahel, particularly in northwest Nigeria and Sudan. Extreme to exceptional deficits are also forecast for Somalia, though of reduced extent, and in central Madagascar. A large pocket of surplus is forecast to emerge in southern Africa during this period at the intersection of Angola, Namibia, and Botswana. Both deficits and surpluses are expected along the White Nile in southeast Sudan and into South Sudan.

The forecast for April through June clearly shows a downgrade in the intensity of deficits from the southern Sahel through southern Africa, and an increase in the intensity of deficits across northern Africa, particularly northern Niger. Somalia and Madagascar are expected to transition from deficit to near-normal water conditions. Surpluses at the intersection of Angola, Namibia, and Botswana will diminish in severity and begin to transition to both deficit and surplus in some areas.

The forecast for the final months of the 12-month period – July through September – shows the continued emergence of severe to exceptional deficits across northern Africa, particularly in Algeria, and the resurgence of primarily moderate deficits in southern Somalia and southern Africa.

(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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