Middle East: Exceptional water deficits forecast for the Arabian Peninsula

26 June 2017

The Big Picture
For the 12-month period ending February 2018 (below), the Arabian Peninsula is forecast to experience severe to exceptional deficits. The most intense conditions are expected across central Saudi Arabia, southern Iraq and Kuwait, in Yemen west of Aden, and in the border region of Yemen and Oman. Deficits are also forecast for the Kerman region in Iran.

Exceptional surpluses are indicated for south-central Oman, and northern Hormozgan province in Iran, extending across southern Fars.  A region of western Iran extending from Tehran into northern Iraq may experience moderate surpluses.

More than 135,000 people in Yemen have contracted cholera, a water-borne disease, and 950 have died according to the World Health Organization. Water and sanitation infrastructure in the country has deteriorated due to civil war, exposing the population to unsafe water supplies; ongoing drought has compounded the problem. Well before conflict and drought, however, Yemen was projected to be the first country to run out of water.

The Public Authority for Electricity and Water in Oman has confirmed water shortages in Al Hamra, Al Dakhiliyah Governorate, due to a decrease in water basin levels feeding wells connected to the area's water network. Plans to address the situation include transporting water in tanks and connecting the region to a desalination network.

Oman's "aflaj" system - an ancient irrigation network of 11,000 canals that collect groundwater for agriculture - is drying up, threatening crop output. Water shortages last year in Batinah Governorate, the country's most productive agricultural region, reduced yields by 20 percent according to some farmers. With average annual precipitation only 75mm to 100mm (2.95 to 3.94in) and temperatures reaching 46.7°C (116°F) in May, the current plan is to increase agricultural water resources through desalination.

Saudi Arabia - also faced with decreasing groundwater and extreme temperatures common to much of the Middle East - depends on the 792 million gallons of water per day produced by its 27 desalination stations to help provide water for the country's 28 million people. With oil revenues dropping Saudi Arabia has begun taxing water to address debt and to prepare for the continued decline of groundwater in the region predicted by experts.

The water volume in Iran's Lake Urmia appears to be increasing after years of damming, illegal wells, and drought threatened its extinction. According to the governor of West Azerbaijan Province, the lake's water volume has increased five-fold in the last four years as a result of extensive government reclamation projects.

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

The exceptional deficits observed across central Saudi Arabia are forecast to spread in the June through August period across the southern extent of the Arabian Peninsula, affecting all of Yemen as well as the UAE and most of Oman. These conditions are expected to persist but moderate in the September through November period and ease in the final three months of the forecast. Pockets of severe deficit in Turkey, near Antalya, north of Adana, and north of Ankara, are expected to continue through the near-term forecast and into the September through November timeframe before ameliorating.

Surpluses indicated in northern Iraq, western Iran will moderate and disappear by the December forecast. Exceptional surpluses in south-central Iran will cross over to deficit conditions in June through November and moderate in the final period. An area of exceptional surplus in central Oman is expected to persist throughout the period.

(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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