Africa: Extreme water deficits forecast for Zambia & Malawi

21 February 2018

The 12-month forecast (below) indicates severe water deficits across much of northern Africa with exceptional deficits around Benghazi, Libya. Exceptional deficits are also forecast for Gabon and central Malawi. Other regions with a forecast of intense deficit include Liberia, Zambia, southern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and west-central Madagascar.

Primarily moderate deficits are expected around the Gulf of Guinea, eastern Central African Republic, Somalia, northeastern Angola, Zimbabwe, southern Mozambique, western South Africa, and southwestern Madagascar.

Surplus is forecast in southern Chad, southern Sudan, northeastern South Sudan, northern Ethiopia, Eritrea, western DRC, eastern Angola, Tanzania, northeastern Mozambique, and eastern Madagascar. Surplus conditions are expected to be exceptional in a large block of central Tanzania.

The 3-month maps (below) show the evolving conditions in more detail.

The near-term forecast through April indicates notable improvement in southern Africa where conditions will transition from intense to merely mild deficit. However, severe to exceptional deficits are forecast from central Malawi through much of eastern Zambia and into southern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Deficits of similar intensity are forecast scattered across the southern Sahara and the Sahel, in Guinea-Bissau, and in pockets of Nigeria, southern Cameroon, and west-central Madagascar. Deficits of varying severity remain the dominant in many other regions, but conditions in the Horn of Africa will downgrade to mild.

Surplus conditions are forecast for northeastern South Sudan, in DRC near Kinshasa, and eastern Angola, Tanzania, northern Madagascar, and eastern Botswana. Surpluses are expected to be widespread and exceptional across central Tanzania.

From May through July widespread severe to extreme deficits will emerge across northern Africa. Deficits of similar severity are expected to persist in eastern Zambia and into DRC and Malawi, and will emerge in coastal Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, and Ghana. Moderate deficits will emerge in southern Somalia. The extent of surplus will increase in Sudan and South Sudan around the White Nile. Surpluses will emerge in Eritrea and the Ethiopian Highlands, and, with lesser intensity, southern Chad, central Uganda, and along the Black and the White Volta Rivers in Burkina Faso (Mouhoun and Nakanbe Rivers). In Tanzania, surpluses will remain intense but will shrink slightly. Conditions in north-central DRC will transition from deficit to moderate surplus around the Uele River.

The forecast for the final quarter – August through October 2018 – indicates conditions similar to those forecast for the preceding three months.

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

The projection of Cape Town’s “Day Zero,” the day the city will be forced to shut off residential water taps, was pushed back to July 9 from prior forecasts which had predicted it to be as early as April. The city at large has cut its daily water consumption to almost half of what it was two years ago, but authorities have faced scrutiny for their management of the crisis.

In mid-February the drought was officially declared a "national disaster," shifting relief efforts to the federal government and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party. The central government is currently embroiled in political battles - after a nine-year tenure, South African president Jacob Zuma resigned on 14 February amid a corruption scandal and a 'no-confidence' vote from the ANC, his own party. The drought is likely to slap the national economy with a credit rating downgrade for South Africa, pushing interest rates higher and raising the cost of capital.

Desperate times have spurred some innovative motivational tactics to reduce water usage - some of SA's popular recording artists have remixed hit songs in exactly two-minute durations, the maximum time allotted for a shower.

But in a dark irony amid the region’s worst drought in history, Western Cape Province celebrated a rare rain event this month before a resulting flash flood killed nine people.

Damage to Malawi's maize crop from drought and armyworms has put roughly 2 million Malawians at risk of food shortage and prompted the country's Agriculture Ministry to ban maize exports. More than 700,000 farmers could lose 40 percent of their harvest due to low rainfall.

Agricultural leaders in Zambia anticipate a 50 percent decline in the country's maize production due to drought conditions. 

In Kenya, drought is affecting hydroelectric production, with the Sondu Miriu power station currently generating less than 10MW of its normal 80MW. And without significant rainfall soon, the government will shut down the 40MW Masinga Hydroelectric Power Station. Schools in eastern Kenya have seen a significant drop in enrollment as families out-migrate in search of water and pasture.

Droughts and consequent food shortages are increasing early marriages in Ethiopia, according to an international aid agency. Girls aged as young as 13, especially from agricultural families, are pressured to marry wealthier men as prolonged drought is affecting 8.5 million people.

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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