Africa: Water deficits forecast for Mauritania, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Burkina Faso

19 October 2017

The Big Picture
The 12-month forecast (below) indicates moderate to extreme water deficits across northern Africa with a large pocket of exceptional deficits along the border of Algeria and Libya, and smaller pockets in coastal Mauritania, northeastern Niger, southwestern Burkina Faso, and along the Red Sea in Sudan. Surpluses are forecast for southeastern Sudan.

In the southern half of the continent exceptional deficits are forecast for southwestern Namibia, and moderate to extreme deficits for Democratic Republic of the Congo and southeastern Central African Republic. Surpluses are predicted for eastern Tanzania and Mwanza in the north.

Residents of Zagora, a desert town of 30,000 in southern Morocco, have been staging a series of "thirsty protests" over their water supply being cut off for hours and even days. The relatively peaceful protests were without official interference until recently, when police used force to break up the rally on October 8 and arrested 21 people. Residents say the water-intensive cultivation of big-farm, high-profit watermelons is draining their region's already limited water supply.

A team of university economists has verified a link between droughts and riots using data detailing 1,800 riots that occurred over a 20-year period in sub-Saharan Africa. By cross-referencing drought indicator data from the Standardized Precipitation-Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) with data from the Social Conflict Analysis Database, researchers found that a period of drought increases the overall possibility of rioting by 10 percent in a given month, and by 50 percent in densely populated regions. Two other factors - the absence of lakes and rivers, and diverse ethnic groups sharing the same water source in the region - also increased likelihood.

At least 29 people were killed in Nigeria's state of Plateau this month when the school they were using as a shelter was attacked, purportedly by nomadic Fulani herdsmen. One piece in the wider range of issues driving the violence: drought and desertification in the Sahel have pushed herders south seeking pasture, creating resource conflicts between farmers and herders.

While conflict, poverty, and climate change are frequently cited as factors in mass migration from Africa to Europe, the role of large water diversion projects that drain natural wetlands - traditional sources of sustenance for millions of people across the Sahel - is increasingly seen as a cause of outmigration. Wetlands International, a Dutch-based NGO, points to dams in the region that have destroyed rural livelihoods near Lake Chad and now threaten the Inner Niger Delta in northern Mali.

As drought persists in Western Cape, South Africa, the province's MEC (Member of the Executive Council) for economic development says that 45,000 jobs are now at risk. As of October 2, dam levels in the Cape are at 35.88 percent compared to 62.2 percent at this time last year. Anticipating a 16 percent decline in the nation's wheat crop, South Africa lowered its wheat import tariff in response to the drought. More than 60 percent of SA's wheat crop is planted in Western Cape. The drought is also taking a toll on orange and table grape crops, flower tourism, and wine production.

Forecast Breakdown
The 3-month maps (below) show the evolving conditions in more detail.

As is evident in the map progression above, the extent of exceptional water deficits – shown in dark red – is expected to diminish considerably, particularly in the southern half of the continent, where a transition to primarily mild deficits is predicted. From October through December moderate to extreme deficits are forecast across the northern half of the continent with a large pocket of exceptional deficit in western Mauritania and southern Western Sahara, and smaller, isolated pockets in southwestern Burkina Faso, the Chinko Nature Reserve in Central African Republic and across the border into northern Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the southern half of Africa primarily mild deficits are forecast, with severe to exceptional deficits in southwestern Namibia and around Cape Town, South Africa.

Severe to exceptional surpluses are forecast for southeastern Sudan into northeastern South Sudan, north-central Uganda, eastern Tanzania and Mwanza in the north, and along the central border between Botswana and South Africa. Surpluses of generally lesser severity are forecast for the Niger Delta, southern Gabon, and the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

The forecast for January through March indicates a continued reduction in the severity of deficits overall, leaving moderate deficits from the Mediterranean south through Democratic Republic of the Congo, and a scattered band of severe to exceptional deficits across the southern Sahara into the northern Sahel. Moderate to exceptional surpluses are expected to persist in southeastern Sudan into northern South Sudan, along with surpluses of generally lesser intensity in eastern Tanzania and Mwanza in the north. Some moderate surpluses will continue to emerge in central Kenya and from Lake Turkana past Kampala, Uganda; and in northeastern Mozambique and along the Zambezi River.

The forecast for the final quarter – April through June 2018 – indicates a resurgence of severe deficits across northern Africa.

(It should be noted that forecast skill declines with longer lead times.)

Note on Administrative Boundaries
There are numerous regions around the world where country borders are contested. ISciences depicts country boundaries on these maps solely to provide some geographic context. The boundaries are nominal, not legal, descriptions of each entity. The use of these boundaries does not imply any judgement on the legal status of any territory, or any endorsement or acceptance of disputed boundaries on the part of ISciences or our data providers.


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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