Middle East: Water deficits diminish overall but persist in Yemen

27 February 2017

The Big Picture
The 12-month forecast through October 2017 (below) shows widespread severe to exceptional water deficits on the Arabian Peninsula, particularly in Yemen and United Arab Emirates. Deficits of varying intensity are also in the forecast for much of Turkey, coastal Georgia, Iraq south of the Euphrates River, and central and southern Iran.

Surpluses are forecast in northeastern Iraq and along the central Caspian coast in Iran.

Dust storms, water shortages, power failures, and unemployment combined to incite protests in Ahvaz, one of Iran's most oil-rich cities, for five days before demonstrations were declared illegal by security forces. Already suffering from unemployment and water shortages the area was hit by a massive dust storm in February, and when the rains came dust was churned to mud causing power stations to stop working and oil production to drop by 700,000 barrels a day. A 15-year drought and poorly planned dam have caused marshes in the area to dry up and exacerbate dust storms. Dust, along with petrochemical pollutants, prompted the World Health Organization to crown Ahvaz the most polluted city in the world in 2015.

Drought and the depletion of groundwater in Iran threaten Persepolis, the 2,500-year-old heritage site and tourist destination, once considered to be the capital of the Persian empire. The soil around the site, also known as Takht-e-Jamshid (Throne of Jamshid), is collapsing. 

New research using samples from a stalagmite to reconstruct fluctuations in rainfall in the eastern Fertile Crescent - Syria and Iraq - indicates that catastrophic droughts in 1998-2000 and 2007-2010 were the most severe in 1,100 years. Researchers also found that the effect of these droughts was worsened by a long-term trend toward drier conditions. This long-term trend is not captured in tree ring records and climate models, say researchers.

Jordan has extended its experimental cloud-seeding program through the end of March, citing encouraging results from the ionization technology to produce improved rainfall. Water shortage is severe in Jordan, attributable to a decline in renewable resources and a gap between demand and availability, in part driven by a large influx of refugees. 

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

Exceptional deficits observed November through January are forecast to diminish in intensity to primarily moderate from February through April. However, exceptional deficits will emerge in western Oman. Nearly all of Yemen is expected to remain in conditions of water deficit ranging from moderate to severe, along with a small stretch of exceptional deficit along the Bab-al-Mandeb Strait connecting the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden. A smattering of moderate to severe deficits will persist in central Turkey, and deficits will persist in coastal Georgia and around the intersection of Syria, Iraq, and Jordan.

From May through July the extent and severity of deficits will increase throughout the region, particularly on the Arabian Peninsula and in 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 coast of the Persian Gulf in Iran, and in much of central Iran. The extent of deficits at the intersection of Syria, Iraq, and Jordan will increase along with a slight uptick in severity.

After July 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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