Middle East: Water deficits moderate overall; severe deficits in SE Iran

21 February 2018

The forecast for the 12-month period ending October 2018 (below) indicates water deficits of varying severity throughout the region, including a large pocket of exceptional deficit in southeastern Iraq near Basrah.

Deficits with a return period of 10 to 40 years are forecast for much of Iran, severe deficits are expected in western Turkey with deficits of generally lesser intensity throughout much of the remainder of the country.

Moderate to severe deficits are forecast for Lebanon, West Bank, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates. Primarily moderate deficits are expected in Yemen.

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

As is apparent in the map series, widespread exceptional deficits observed in the prior three months are expected to moderate considerably through April. The forecast indicates moderate deficits – with a return period of 5 to 10 years – in western Turkey and along its southeastern border, the Tigris River, central Iran, southern Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Yemen. Some deficits of greater severity are forecast in southeastern Iran.

After April deficits in the region will increase in extent and severity. Severe to exceptional deficits will emerge in Iran from the Persian Gulf to the Afghan border, and in the northeast near Turkmenistan. Severe deficits will emerge in Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Extreme deficits – a return period of 20 to 40 years – are forecast for southern Iraq near Basrah. Moderate deficits will emerge in Azerbaijan.

The forecast for the final quarter – August through October – indicates increasing pockets of more intense deficits.

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

Tribal conflicts have erupted in Iran's southern provinces over water allocation for agricultural lands, with accusations that some clans are exceeding legal allotment from the Tigris River to irrigate their farms, putting downstream farmers at a disadvantage.

Drought conditions, combined with the fact that 70 percent of the water that flows in Iraq comes from outside of its borders, have led to increasing concern throughout the country. Iraq has made official requests to Turkey and Syria to release its share of water from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, particularly as Turkey's Ilisu Dam, the largest hydroelectric project in Turkey, reaches completion and further threatens Iraq's water supply. Heavy snowfall in Iraq at the end of January and a deluge of rainstorms in February have helped somewhat in the short-term but have done little to alleviate long-term concerns of water deficit.

The United Arab Emirates recently unveiled the world’s largest desalination reservoir, a natural freshwater aquifer underneath the desert fed by water piped from a coastal desal plant in Abu Dhabi 124 miles away. Pumping began in 2015 and the reservoir reached capacity - 6.7 billion gallons - in December, enough to supply one million people with 180 liters (47.5 gallons) every day for 3 months. The price for the project: $435 million.

The UAE Research Programme for Rain Enhancement Science awarded a $5 million grant to three international scientists for their research on cloud-seeding.

Iran’s Energy Minister announced plans to coordinate with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force in cloud-seeding operations, just as the country’s annual precipitation rate hit its 50-year low. Nearly 96 percent of Iran’s total area is experiencing various levels of prolonged drought.

Drought has increased wildfire incidence in Iran since last March by 20 percent over the same period in the prior Iranian calendar year. 

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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