Middle East: Widespread water deficits ahead Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE

25 May 2017

The Big Picture
The 12-month forecast through January 2018 (below) indicates widespread severe to exceptional water deficits in Saudi Arabia, with pockets of both deficit and surplus. Similar conditions are forecast for southern Iraq and west of the Euphrates River. Deficits of varying intensity are forecast for western Turkey, Lebanon, West Bank, Israel, Jordan, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

Surpluses are forecast for south-central Iran from the Persian Gulf east into Kerman Province, central Oman, and with lesser intensity, northwestern Iran.

Iran is planning to use drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, for cloud-seeding in Yazd Province. According to Iran's Water Research Institute cloud-seeding, a form of weather modification that produces precipitation, is more cost effective for the country than extracting from overtaxed groundwater resources. The use of drones for cloud-seeding is the latest attempt to help address Iran's water crisis.

Iran hosted the first international conference on "virtual water" in Tehran at the end of April sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO) and the Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (ICCIMA). The director of ICCIMA pointed to the possibility of using virtual water - water embedded in goods and services - as a commodity to restore water resources. Iran's agricultural minister confirmed that the country has bought or leased 728,300 hectares (1,799,668.5 acres) of land for extraterritorial farming - growing crops in another country for import to Iran - and is in the process of acquiring an additional 863,000 hectares (2,132,519 acres).

Fourteen of the 33 countries most likely to be water stressed by 2040 are in the Middle East, including Iran. The potential for water stress to erupt in violence and mass migration in the region is of increasing concern to global security experts.

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

Severe to exceptional deficits are forecast to continue emerging throughout Saudi Arabia from May through July, increasing in extent from the prior three months, with both deficits and surpluses in the central part of the country. Likewise, deficits will emerge in Iraq west of the Euphrates and in southern Iraq, where both deficits and surpluses are predicted. Extreme to exceptional deficits will emerge in United Arab Emirates, and extreme deficits in Qatar and Lebanon. 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, increasing in extent. Deficits of varying severity are also forecast for Lebanon, West Bank, Israel, Jordan, Yemen, Oman, and eastern Iran.

Surpluses may persist in northeastern Iraq into northwestern Iran, and both deficits and surpluses are forecast for Iran east of the Persian Gulf into Kerman Province and in central Oman.

The forecast for August through October shows a distribution pattern similar to the prior three months but with the following differences: a slight uptick in the severity of deficits in Yemen and eastern Iran; a downgrade in the severity of deficits in Syria; a return to nearly normal conditions in Lebanon, West Bank, and Israel; and an increase in the extent of deficits in Turkey. Conditions in Iran from the Persian Gulf eastward into Kerman Province will continue to transition to both deficits and surpluses, indicated in purple and pink, as will surpluses in central Oman. Surpluses in northwestern Iran are forecast to diminish in extent, retreating from the Caspian Sea coast.

The forecast for the final months of the forecast period – November through January – indicates a downgrade in the intensity of deficits throughout the region.

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

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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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