Middle East: Intense deficits to persist on the Arabian Peninsula

26 September 2017

The Big Picture
The forecast for the 12-month period ending May 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, much of Iran, Lebanon, Israel, West Bank, and across much of Turkey and Georgia.

The head of the Drought and Crisis Management Center at Iran's Meteorological Organization reports that 88 percent of the country suffered some level of drought over a 1-year period ending August 22, and that figure rose to 94 percent over the inclusive 7-year period.

Water scarcity in Iran is reaching such an alarming level that the issue has become a repeated thematic strand reaching from the heights of foreign policy down to school curriculum.

Terms like "water policy," "water diplomacy," and "hydropolitics," are becoming standard in the lexicon of Iran's foreign ministry as its diplomats, acknowledging the increased potential for water conflict as well as water cooperation under future climate scenarios of an even drier Middle East, are forced to consider importing water from abroad. That option is at the bottom of a list that includes reducing consumption, re-examination of dam management, desalination, and water transfer projects.

With the intent of raising an environment-friendly generation, Iran's Department of the Environment is launching an environmental conservation curriculum for pre-school through 11th grade students and will open 60 "nature schools."

Drought in Iran is cited as a major contributor to the country's rural-to-urban migration trend which has left thousands of villages deserted.

The long-noted water crisis in Yemen has been a slow-motion tragedy which includes predictions that Sana'a, the capital and largest city, could be the first city in the world to run out of water. The problem and its complex components are difficult to overstate: natural aridity; drought; civil war; a renewable water withdrawal rate of 169 percent; water-intensive qat cultivation; and rural-to-urban migration. The weaponization of water has also become part of the narrative. As rural residents abandon agricultural communities due to lack of water and seek employment elsewhere, salaries offered by militant recruitment groups become enticing. And, providing or withholding water resources is another effective military tactic used to exert control over Yemeni communities.

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

The distribution pattern of water anomalies through May 2018, as depicted in the map progression above, is similar to that published last month. Exceptional water deficits are forecast to nearly disappear after November though widespread deficits of lesser intensity will continue to emerge.

The near-term forecast through November indicates a significant retreat of exceptional deficits in northern Saudi Arabia, but large pockets will persist surrounded by severe to extreme deficits reaching across the border into much of Yemen and southern Oman. Exceptional deficits will also diminish in United Arab Emirates but intense deficits will persist. In the Levant exceptional deficits will nearly disappear.

Exceptional deficits in Iraq west of the Euphrates will become slightly less intense during this period except in the south where a large block of exceptional deficits will persist. Surpluses on the Iraq-Iran border will diminish; moderate to severe deficits will emerge throughout much of the eastern two-thirds of the country; and both deficits and surpluses are forecast in Fars and western Kerman in the south. In Turkey, the extent of deficits will decrease somewhat but pockets of exceptional deficits will persist near Antalya, Adana, and north of Ankara. Deficits ranging from severe to exceptional will continue to emerge in Georgia, and the coastal region will transition from surplus to deficit.

As previously stated, deficits across the Middle East are forecast to nearly disappear after November. From December 2017 through February 2018 conditions in Turkey through northwestern Iran should transition to near-normal. Severe to extreme deficits are forecast for northern Saudi Arabia and southern Iraq. Primarily moderate deficits are expected in: southern Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, far western and far eastern Yemen, northern Iraq, Syria, and southern and eastern Iran. Aforementioned surpluses in Iran and Iraq will transition to near-normal or mild deficit conditions, and a pocket of exceptional surplus may re-emerge in central Oman.

The forecast for the final quarter indicates an increase in the extent and intensity of deficits in the region, particularly on the Arabian Peninsula.

(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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