Middle East: Water deficits on the Arabian Peninsula will moderate after October

24 August 2017

The Big Picture
he forecast for the 12-month period ending April 2018 (below) indicates widespread extreme to exceptional water deficits in southern Syria, Jordan, Iraq west of the Euphrates River into southwestern Iran, Kuwait, northern Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, southern Oman, and southwestern Yemen.

Deficits of varying intensity are forecast for the remainder of the Arabian Peninsula, Lebanon, Israel, West Bank, Georgia, and most of Iran’s eastern two-thirds. Primarily moderate deficits are forecast for much of Turkey.

As part of its Vision 2030 economic reform to reduce dependency on falling oil revenues, Saudi Arabia has begun the process of privatizing some state-owned utilities, including a power generation firm and a water desalination company. By divesting state assets over the next several years, the government hopes to raise $200 billion and has set a target date of 2020 by which time 52 percent of the country's desalinated water requirements will be met by private suppliers. The reform also aims to reduce electricity and water subsidies by 200 billion riyals ($53 billion), and includes financial support of 12.92 billion riyals ($3.45 billion) to the Ministry of Water and Electricity.

Due to inherent water scarcity, Saudi Arabia has relied on imports for food security, a form of "virtual water" transfer financed in the past by higher oil prices. Increasingly, the country is outsourcing food production through foreign agro-investments in places like Sudan and the US.

Iran has approved deepwater well drilling, 500 to 1,000 meters, in drought-stricken Sistan-Baluchestan province and has allocated 250 billion rials ($6.5 million) for the project. The federal government is also contemplating water transfer projects from the Caspian Sea, Persian Gulf, and Gulf of Oman. 

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

As is apparent in the map group, exceptional water deficits in the Middle East are forecast to nearly disappear after October though widespread deficits of lesser intensity will continue to emerge. Until then, however, extreme to exceptional deficits will blanket much of the Arabian Peninsula, and Syria, Jordan, Iraq west of the Euphrates, much of Georgia, and a pocket of southwestern Turkey surrounding Antalya. Severe to exceptional deficits will emerge throughout Yemen joining those already observed in the west. Primarily moderate deficits will emerge in central and eastern Turkey, joining more severe deficits already present in Antalya, north of Ankara, and northeast of Adana. Prior observed surpluses in south-central Iran near the Persian Gulf will transition to conditions of both deficit and surplus. Surpluses along the northern borders of Iraq and Iran will persist or transition to deficit and surplus as will surpluses from Tehran to the southern Iraqi border.

As previously stated, deficits across the Middle East are forecast to diminish considerably from November 2017 through January 2018. However, severe to extreme deficits are forecast during this period in: Georgia and trailing along the Black Sea coast into Turkey; northern Saudi Arabia; Iraq west of the Euphrates; pockets of central Iran; and southwestern and eastern Yemen. Aforementioned surpluses in Iran and Iraq will transition to near-normal conditions, while a pocket of exceptional surplus may re-emerge in central Oman.

The forecast map for the final quarter, February through April 2018, indicates a slight uptick in deficits overall for the region.

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

Note on Administrative Boundaries
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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