Middle East: Water surpluses to persist from Turkey through western Iran

19 February 2019

THE BIG PICTURE
The forecast for the 12-month period ending October 2019 indicates widespread, intense water deficits on the Arabian Peninsula including exceptional deficits in large pockets of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and western Oman. Exceptional deficits are also forecast for Kerman Province, Iran, and along the Gulf of Oman in Iran.

Extreme deficits are forecast for Kuwait and Qatar, and deficits of generally lesser intensity are forecast for Jordan, Iraq west of the Euphrates River, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.

Surpluses ranging from moderate to exceptional are forecast from central Syria into Turkey; scattered pockets in Turkey; from the Euphrates River in Iraq into western Iran; and along Iran’s central Caspian Sea coast.

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

The forecast through April indicates deficits on the Arabian Peninsula and southern Iran, and surpluses from Turkey through western Iran. Exceptional deficits will increase in western Oman, downgrade in Yemen but remain intense, and moderate to severe deficits are expected in much of Saudi Arabia. Deficits will downgrade in United Arab Emirates and moderate deficits will emerge in Qatar. Primarily moderate to severe deficits are forecast for southern Iran. Surpluses of varying intensity are expected in Turkey, northern Syria, from the Euphrates River through eastern Iraq and into western Iran, and will be exceptional in northern Syria and pockets of Iran. Moderate surpluses are forecast on the Aras River in Armenia and Azerbaijan.

From May through July surpluses in the region will shrink and deficits on the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq will increase and intensify. Surpluses will nearly disappear in Turkey, transitioning to moderate deficits in the center of the country. In northern Syria some exceptional surpluses will persist but conditions of both surplus and deficit (purple) are forecast as deficits emerge. Surpluses will shrink and downgrade in Iraq and Iran, persisting primarily east of the Tigris into western Iran, and in a pocket on Iran’s central Caspian Sea coast north of Tehran. Severe to exceptional deficits are forecast for Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Oman, Jordan, western and southern Iraq, and much of Iran’s eastern two-thirds.

In the final quarter – August through October – deficits are expected to intensify in the region with extreme to exceptional anomalies forecast for the Arabian Peninsula, southern Iraq, and the bulk of Iran.

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

IMPACTS
Heavy rain in late December flooded 11 refugee camps in northern Syria, stranding tens of thousands of refugees, who sought shelter at other camps. Locals in Idlib and Aleppo said the floods, caused by days of rain, were the worst in their experience since the start of the civil war.

In Lebanon, camps were hit with several days of rain, snow, and freezing temperatures, forcing thousands of Syrian refugees from their tents and killing an 8-year-old Syrian girl. Palestinians in Gaza enduring power blackouts reportedly struggled to stay warm amid days of downpours following windy and dusty weather.

Heavy rains flooded 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) of farmland in southern Turkey late last month, affecting wheat, cabbage, zucchini, lettuce, and citrus farmers.

The Iranian capital of Tehran is sinking due to a 30-year drought and the pumping of groundwater, causing fissures and sinkholes to crop up along roads and countrysides. Iranian authorities claim to have measured up to 8.6 inches of annual subsidence around the city, while some sinkholes in western Iran are up to 196 feet deep. The sinking land threatens residential and commercial buildings, infrastructure, and Tehran’s oil refinery.

This year’s wheat crop in Syria was the country’s smallest in three decades, reduced by about 30 percent by war and drought. This month will be the second consecutive month that Syria imports wheat from Russia. The country is projected to import a total of 1.5 million metric tons (1.65 million tons) of grain this year.

Scientists in the UAE are hoping that genetic engineering of heritage crops can produce breakthroughs in salt-tolerant agriculture to reduce freshwater demand in arid climates like parts of the Middle East. Water shortage is the main constraint to agriculture in UAE, and two prominent options – seawater desalination or relying on food imports – are expensive and carry externalities like greenhouse gas emissions and toxic brine expulsion. The ability to irrigate directly with seawater could change the agricultural landscape for the country and the region at large.

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.

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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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