Africa: Water deficits in South Africa to moderate; surpluses forecast in Tanzania

27 November 2017

The 12-month forecast (below) indicates moderate to extreme water deficits across much of northern Africa with exceptional deficits in the northwest including Mauritania, Western Sahara, and Morocco, and a large pocket along the border of Algeria and Libya.

Intense deficits are also forecast for southwest Burkina Faso into Ghana, southwest Niger, along the Red Sea in Sudan, eastern Nigeria, southern Cameroon, southwestern Namibia, and western South Africa. Deficits of generally lesser severity are forecast for Gabon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, southeastern Central African Republic, and the Horn of Africa.

Surpluses are predicted for southeastern Sudan into South Sudan, much of Tanzania, and along the border of Cameroon and Central African Republic.

A stampede for food aid in drought-stricken Morocco has resulted in 15 deaths after several hundred people traveled to the remote village of Sidi Boulalam hoping to receive flour before supplies ran out. Drought has decimated the last two years' harvests and brought wheat and barley production to the lowest level in 10 years.

After three consecutive years of below-average rainfall around Cape Town - South Africa’s second largest city - satellite images clearly show the “bathtub ring” left behind by the drop in water level at Theewaterskloof reservoir. And as the water supply shrinks, so does the job market, particularly in the hard-hit agricultural sector. Officials estimate that R40million (US$2.8 million) in agricultural workers’ wages have been lost in planting, harvesting, and food processing. Water rationing through pressure management has been introduced but “Day Zero,” the day Cape Town runs out of water, continues its approach. 

Though the crisis in Cape Town has received much attention, many communities throughout Western Cape, South Africa, are suffering. The dam that serves Beaufort West's 50,000 residents is at zero capacity, and 20 percent of the town's municipal drinking water is recycled sewage. One manager at the federal Water Research Council says that even with normal or above normal rainfall it could take three or four years for reservoirs in Western Cape to reach normal levels. 

The drought in Mozambique has affected 2 million people since 2015, but women and girls have been especially impacted. Economic hardship and limited food supplies have led parents to marry off female children, setting up a cycle of early childbearing and reduced educational opportunities. A United Nations Population Fund brief also points to an increase in transactional sex and increased labor as men abandon their families.

Electricity costs are rising in Kenya as power companies feel the impact of drought on hydropower production and are forced to more expensive generation of thermal power from diesel. As prices go up, foreign direct investment goes down. Dairy farmers in Nyeri County are caught in a similar situation - the drought has dried up natural pastures and farmers must incur the unplanned for cost of animal feed. Lack of fodder and money has resulted in a 24 percent decline in milk production and a 21 percent drop in farmers' earnings.

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

Exceptional water deficits observed in prior months – shown in dark red – are forecast to diminish considerably, but will continue to emerge in coastal Mauritania, western Niger, southeastern Nigeria, and southern Cameroon. The November through January forecast also indicates moderate to extreme deficits across much of the northern half of continent, particularly around the Gulf of Guinea through Gabon, eastern Central African Republic, and northern Sudan into northern Ethiopia. Conditions in South Africa are expected to moderate but severe deficits are forecast along the Orange River and from Lesotho through Swaziland.

The vast stretch of blues and greens in the November through January map also commands attention. Surpluses are forecast from southern Sudan, through eastern South Sudan and into western Ethiopia, and southward spreading throughout much of Tanzania, Malawi, parts of northern Mozambique, and much of Zambia. These surpluses are expected to be exceptional in southern Sudan, south of Lake Victoria in Tanzania, and in coastal Tanzania. Surpluses are also expected in western Central African Republic, southwestern Democratic Republic of the Congo into northwestern Angola, eastern Angola, and across the border into Zambia.

The pattern of water anomalies forecast for February through April shows moderate to severe water deficit anomalies across northern Africa with pockets of greater severity peppered across the southern Sahara, in Nigeria, and southern Cameroon. Moderate to severe deficits are forecast for southeastern Central African Republic into DRC, and in northern Ethiopia. Mild deficits are forecast in southern Africa, and surpluses are forecast in northeastern South Sudan and Tanzania.

The forecast for the final quarter – May through July 2018 – indicates a resurgence of severe deficits across northern Africa, and surplus in central Tanzania.

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

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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