Middle East: Water deficits persist in Sana'a & Aden, Yemen

29 November 2017

The forecast for the 12-month period ending July 2018 (below) indicates a distribution pattern of water deficits similar to the forecast issued last month with one significant difference: deficits in Iran are expected to increase in intensity, reaching extreme to exceptional severity. 

Extreme to exceptional water deficits are forecast for Turkey, Georgia, Syria, Jordan, Iraq west of the Euphrates River, Iran, northern Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, southern Oman, and southwestern Yemen.

Severe deficits are forecast for Lebanon, Israel, and West Bank.

A severe dust storm in Iraq in late October caused more than 4,200 cases of severe breathing problems, as reported by the Ministry of Health, canceled flights at airports in Iraq and Iran, and postponed a major military campaign. Schools and offices were closed as the storm moved into Iran, and residents were advised to remain indoors. Since 2011 the World Meteorological Organization has recognized dust storms as natural disasters, and increased desertification and drought in Iraq have contributed to the problem.

The role of resource scarcity, particularly water, winds its way through the complicated narrative of the rise of ISIS in Iraq, where drought-ravaged farmers and herdsman have become easy targets for radical recruitment

Natural aridity has always been part of the Middle East's profile, but increasingly even financially secure and technologically advanced countries such as Israel are struggling to find solutions. Four years of drought have strained Israel's touted desalination and wastewater treatment plants, as the Sea of Galilee nears its lowest level and underground aquifers turn salty. Proposed cuts to water use, which would have hit farmers particularly hard, were quickly abandoned. An additional desal plant is under consideration at a cost of at least $400 million.

Reservoirs in Jordan are one-fifth full, the Yarmouk River is drying up, and the country's flagship Red Sea desal project has suffered repeated delays due to diplomatic set-backs. One study predicts a 30 percent decline in rainfall by the year 2100. 

Oman, which consumes an estimated 25 percent more water than the natural recharge, plans to increase desalination capacity of independent water producers by 66 percent over the next six years at a cost of several hundred million Omani rials, privately funded.

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

Exceptional water deficits are forecast to nearly disappear after October leaving primarily moderate to severe deficits across the region with some pockets of greater intensity, as shown in the November through January map. Severe deficits are forecast along stretches of the Euphrates River. Deficits of greater intensity are expected along Turkey’s northern coast and in southwestern and southeastern Yemen. A small pocket of surplus may persist north of Tehran, Iran, and may re-emerge in southern Oman.

Overall, water deficits will continue to diminish in extent and intensity from February through April, though moderate deficits will continue to emerge throughout much of the region, with severe deficits along the border of Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

The forecast for the final quarter indicates an increase in the extent and intensity of deficits covering the entire region.

(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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