Middle East: Widespread water deficits ahead in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Yemen

26 April 2017

The Big Picture
The 12-month forecast through December 2017 (below) indicates widespread severe to exceptional water deficits in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and deficits of equal severity in southern Iraq and United Arab Emirates. Deficits of varying intensity are forecast for coastal Georgia, Turkey, Lebanon, West Bank, Israel, Jordan, Qatar, and central Iran.

Surpluses are forecast for south-central Iran from the Persian Gulf east into Kerman Province.

The United Nations World Food Programme warns that Yemen is on the brink of famine. Well before the conflict in Yemen helped push its people closer to starvation, the country's water resources were severely stressed but now 14.5 million Yemenis struggle to get enough clean water to drink, bathe, or grow food. Cholera and acute watery diarrhea continue to spread with 22,500 suspected cases and 106 deaths. Almost 2 million children are at risk of diarrheal diseases.

Preliminary findings from Iran's recent population and housing census indicate that internal migration decreased by nearly a third over the past decade. The drop is not, however, attributed to a decrease in rural-urban migration but rather that rural populations had previously decreased to the point that few people were left to migrate to the cities. In 1977 the number of households in urban and rural areas was nearly equal; now urban households outnumber rural households by 3 to 1.  Declining rainfall is cited among several factors that have spurred migration and have left several thousand villages deserted over the last half century.

Cloud-seeding operations - the practice of flying light aircraft through clouds and releasing chemicals to encourage vapor to form droplets - increased by 30 percent in the United Arab Emirates in the first quarter of 2017. Proponents cite its considerable economic advantage over costly desalination. Though average annual rainfall in UAE rarely exceeds 120 mm (4.7 inches), 287 mm (11 inches) were recorded in Dubai and Al Ain over a 24-hour period on March 9, the highest since record-keeping began in 1977.

Major flooding and landslides triggered by heavy rains struck northwestern Iran in mid-April. Iran's Press TV reported 48 deaths in the 6 affected provinces: East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Zanjan, Mazandaran, and Ardebil. Police, army, air ambulances, and Iranian Red Crescent have all been deployed in rescue and sheltering operations. The Azar-Shahr River rose to its highest levels in decades, according to local media. 

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

Severe to exceptional deficits are forecast to emerge April through June throughout Saudi Arabia, and also in: southern Iraq and west of the Euphrates, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, eastern Oman into southern coastal Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, West Bank, Israel, and eastern Cypress. Deficits in Yemen are expected to downgrade from exceptional to severe, though these deficits will be widespread. Deficits of varying severity are expected to persist in Turkey in a western arc from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and in central Turkey. Primarily moderate deficits are forecast in central Iran.

Surpluses are forecast in southern Iran during this period from the Persian Gulf east into Kerman Province; along the northern border of Syria and Iraq; and in central Oman.

The forecast for July through September is similar to the prior three months. However, aforementioned surpluses forecast in Iran from the Persian Gulf eastward into Kerman Province are expected to transition to both deficits and surpluses, indicated in purple and pink, as are surpluses in central Oman.

The forecast for the final months of the forecast period – October through December – indicates a downgrade in the intensity of deficits in the region.

(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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