Middle East: Water deficits forecast for the Arabian Peninsula & Iran

31 January 2017

The Big Picture
The 12-month forecast through September 2017 (below) indicates widespread water deficits of varying intensity in Turkey, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq south of the Euphrates River, and central and southern Iran. Surpluses are forecast in northeast Iraq and along the Caspian coast in Iran.

Cultivation of the khat plant - whose narcotic properties are accessed by chewing the leaves - is fueling a food crisis in Yemen where conflict and drought have already brought the threat of famine. The Yemeni Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation released figures indicating that the percentage of land used to cultivate khat has increased to one-sixth of Yemen's agricultural area and consumes one-third of water used by the agricultural sector. Acreage used to cultivate khat has increased over the past three years while acreage devoted to other crops has significantly declined. Khat now ranks first in the list of cash crops.

Heavy rainfall flooded refugee camps in Anbar Province, Iraq, where 42,000 internally displaced Iraqi families are being housed.

Researchers at Princeton say that climate change, not conflict, was more likely the cause of a massive dust storm in 2015 that enveloped large areas of seven Middle Eastern nations, causing deaths, respiratory ailments, and airport closings. Climatic conditions - summer 2015 was unusually hot and dry relative to the last twenty years, and extreme high temperatures and low humidity were more frequent - along with unusual weather - a wind pattern going east to west instead of south - combined to create more dust and deposit it in high concentrations over heavily populated regions.

Forecast Breakdown
The overall progression of water anomalies, shown in the 3-month composites below, indicates that deficits in the region will diminish somewhat in severity through March before increasing in both extent and severity thereafter.

Comparing the January through March forecast map with the observed conditions of the prior three months, it’s apparent that the extent of exceptional deficits is expected to shrink to just a few pockets, mainly in southwestern and eastern coastal Yemen. However, moderate to extreme deficits are forecast in: Saudi Arabia, particularly in the south; throughout much of Yemen; and in scattered, small pockets across Turkey. Mostly moderate deficits are forecast in central Iran, and both deficits and surpluses are forecast for coastal Oman.

Surpluses are forecast to persist in a few areas through March, as in the prior three months: northeastern Iraq (from Tikrit past Kirkuk); western Isfahan Province (Esfahan), Iran; and, along Iran’s Caspian coast.

The extent and severity of deficits will increase throughout the region from April through June, particularly on the Arabian Peninsula and southern Iraq. Severe deficits along with pockets of extreme and exceptional deficits are forecast for: Saudi Arabia, southern Iraq, Yemen, western Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, along the northern coast of the Persian Gulf in Iran, and along Iran’s southern coast on the Gulf of Oman. Deficits ranging from moderate to severe are forecast for: western Turkey, eastern Syria, Jordan, western Iraq, and Iran’s eastern two-thirds.

After June the forecast indicates that widespread deficits will continue to emerge throughout the region with increasing intensity.

(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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