Africa: Water deficits forecast to increase across the Sahel

19 February 2019

The 12-month forecast through October 2019 indicates a vast stretch of intense water deficits across northern Africa from Mauritania to the Red Sea.

Deficits of varying intensity are forecast for much of the remainder of the continent including exceptional deficits in the Horn of Africa, Southern Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, southwestern Angola, northwestern and southwestern Namibia, and western South Africa.

Exceptional surpluses are forecast for western Tanzania, a pocket in western Mozambique, and a pocket in northern Madagascar. Surpluses of lesser intensity are expected along the Victoria Nile in Uganda, and from westernmost Democratic Republic of the Congo into northwestern Angola.

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

The forecast through April indicates that deficits will downgrade in the southern half of the continent, becoming primarily moderate across the central breadth and mild in the south. Deficits will increase and intensify overall in the north, with moderate to extreme deficits in the Sahara and deficits reaching exceptional intensity in parts of the Sahel – notably northern Nigeria – and into western Ethiopia. Some intense deficits will linger in southern Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon. Exceptional surpluses will persist in western Tanzania. Surpluses of generally lesser intensity are forecast for: Liberia, Ghana, southwestern Central African Republic, the extreme south of Republic of the Congo, the Victoria Nile in Uganda and northeastern Uganda, western and southeastern Mozambique, the northern tip of Madagascar, and a few isolated pockets in South Africa.

From May through July, deficits across northern Africa will intensify with more areas of severe to exceptional deficit across the Sahara. Mild deficits are forecast in the Sahel, and mild to moderate deficits will emerge in coastal West Africa, transitioning from normal or surplus conditions. A pocket of moderate surplus will re-emerge in south-central Chad. Generally mild to moderate deficits are forecast south of the equator with more intense conditions in pockets of southern Angola, Namibia, eastern Botswana, and southern Zimbabwe. Deficits along Madagascar’s western coast will increase and intensify, with extreme to exceptional deficits forecast. Surpluses in western Tanzania will downgrade.

During the final quarter – August through October – intense deficits will continue across northern Africa. Intense deficits are also forecast for Somalia’s central coast, Kenya’s northwestern corner, eastern Tanzania, central Zambia, Malawi, southwestern Angola, and Madagascar’s western coast.

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

South African corn farmers are estimated to have planted the smallest area since the 2015-16 season, when they underwent the worst drought on record. South Africa historically produces the most corn in the continent.

A South African agricultural industry body announced that it will try to raise 3 billion rand (220 million USD) from banks, agribusiness, and government to help farmers hit by severe drought. Dry conditions in the last year have made for a slow recovery since 2015, a disastrous El Niño year in the country. Since last January, 31,000 jobs and 7 billion rand (510 million USD) in potential revenue have been lost to drought.

Tropical Cyclone Desmond dropped up to 277mm (10.9 inches) of rain on the city of Beira, Mozambique within 24 hours late last month. The storm enhanced rains on northwestern Madagascar.

Increasing tensions over fertile land and water appear to be exacerbating ethnoreligious conflicts in Nigeria between farmers, who are mainly Christian, and Muslim Fulani semi-nomadic herders. Rates of violent clashes between farmers and herders since 2016 increased over the last year. The issue is projected to rise to the political fore as President Muhammadu Buhari, who faces accusations of bias toward the herders, seeks a second term as president in an election in February. The election coincides with the beginning of the dry season, which analysts anticipate will force herders southward across farmland in search of water and greener pastures.

The Maputo province of Mozambique reportedly suffered crop losses spanning 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres), after the first period of the rainy season brought below-normal rainfall.

A cold snap and heavy snowfall hit the Maghreb region late last month. Flood waters swept five people to their deaths in Algeria and prompted rescuing of roughly 100 people, while heavy snow blocked dozens of roads. In neighboring Tunisia, two people were killed by flooding and cold.

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.

Subscribe to our monthly Water Watch List

Search blog categories

Search blog tags


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.

For more information contact

Copyright 2019 ISCIENCES, L.L.C. Global Water Monitor & Forecast Watch List is the property of ISCIENCES, L.L.C. It is protected by U.S. copyright laws and may not be reproduced in any way without the written permission of ISCIENCES, L.L.C. The user assumes the entire risk related to its use of information on ISCIENCES, L.L.C. Web pages, including information derived from Water Security Indicators Model (WSIM). This information may include forecasts, projections and other predictive statements that represent ISCIENCES, L.L.C.’s assumptions and expectations in light of currently available information and using the highest professional standards. Actual results may differ from those projected. Consequently, no guarantee is presented or implied as to the accuracy of specific forecasts, projections or predictive statements contained herein. ISCIENCES, L.L.C. provides such information "as is," and disclaims any and all warranties, whether express or implied, including (without limitation) any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. In no event will ISCIENCES, L.L.C. be liable to you or to any third party for any direct, indirect, incidental, consequential, special or exemplary damages or lost profit resulting from any use or misuse of this data.