Africa: Exceptional water deficits forecast for the Ethiopian Highlands

21 March 2019

The 12-month forecast through November 2019 indicates severe to extreme water deficits across northern Africa with exceptional deficits in Western Sahara and pockets of Egypt. Exceptional deficits are also forecast in many parts of southern Africa including Angola’s southern half; Namibia’s northern and southern thirds; Northern Cape, South Africa; and northern Zimbabwe.

Deficits of varying intensity are forecast for much of the remainder of the continent and Madagascar including intense deficits in the northern Horn of Africa, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon.

Exceptional surpluses are forecast for western Tanzania, a pocket in western Mozambique, and a pocket in northern Madagascar. Surpluses of lesser intensity are expected in eastern Tanzania, northern Mozambique and along Mozambique’s southern coast.

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

The forecast through May indicates that deficits will downgrade, leaving much of the continent with moderate anomalies along with pockets of greater intensity. Exceptional deficits are forecast in the Ethiopian Highlands, especially surrounding Lake Tana, and along the Atbara River leading well into Sudan. Deficits will be extreme on the Blue Nile. Mild to moderate deficits are expected in the remainder of the Horn of Africa. Across northern Africa, primarily moderate to severe deficits are expected with some areas of greater intensity in northern Sudan and eastern Mali. Surpluses are forecast in a few pockets along Libya’s coast near Benghazi and west of Tripoli.

Deficits reaching extreme or even exceptional intensity are expected in Equatorial Guinea, Boeny Region in northwestern Madagascar, Lesotho, Guinea-Bissau, and central Republic of the Congo. Severe deficits are forecast along rivers in northern Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic (DRC) and along the Kasai River in southwestern DRC; in Rwanda and Burundi; in eastern Angola into western Zambia and along the Zambezi River, and central Zambia; and northern Zimbabwe.

Surpluses are forecast for much of Tanzania and will be exceptional in the west, downgrading to moderate as they lead through northeastern Zambia. Intense surpluses are forecast around Tete in western Mozambique. Surpluses elsewhere include northeastern Nigeria into northernmost Cameroon, south-central Chad, north-central Burkina Faso, and in Ghana around the northern portion of Lake Volta.

From June through August deficits across northern Africa will intensify significantly with exceptional deficits across the Sahara. Mild deficits are forecast in the Sahel. Intense deficits will emerge in Somalia, particularly in the south, and eastern Ethiopia, while deficits in the Ethiopian Highlands downgrade to mild. In Kenya, intense deficits will emerge along a path in the east from the Somalia border to the Tanzania border, and northwest of Lake Turkana. Deficits in southern Angola and northern Namibia will intensify, becoming severe to exceptional. Intense deficits elsewhere include pockets in Zambia and Madagascar’s central west coast. Surpluses will persist in Tanzania, downgrading somewhat. Surpluses elsewhere will nearly disappear.

During the final quarter – September through November – intense deficits will continue across much of northern Africa though the extent of exceptional deficits will diminish. Primarily moderate deficits are forecast in the remainder of the continent with intense deficits in southwestern Angola and surpluses in East Africa.

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

Cyclone Idai struck Mozambique this month, killing at least 200 people in the country and at least another 100 people in Zimbabwe. The United Nations called the cyclone a “massive disaster” that is estimated to affect up to millions of people. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced and buildings, infrastructure, and croplands washed away by the cyclone and the heavy rains that preceded it. The storm comes just a month after southern Mozambique was facing water and food shortages caused by lack of rainfall.

Heavy rains in mid-February in Zimbabwe caused a dam wall to burst, flooding a gold mine and trapping dozens of miners. At least 22 were confirmed dead.

The province of Free State, South Africa was declared a drought disaster area last month, prompting municipalities within the province to declare drought disaster at the municipal level. Free State Agriculture, an association of agricultural workers, began soliciting applications for assistance from its members.

Recent lack of rainfall in northern Somalia has exacerbated drought conditions affecting nearly one million people, according to aid agencies. Some parts of the country received a mere 25 to 50 percent of the average annual rainfall last year. Violence in the Sool region has hampered aid distribution to families needing drought assistance, exacerbating effects such as malnutrition.

Fears of a tea shortage due to drought in Mombasa, Kenya prompted a panic, inducing price surges in February.

Southern Namibia reportedly received record rainfall last month, at up to 165 mm (6.5 inches) in 24 hours. Desert landscapes were transformed into expansive water pans with raging rivers. The rain was largely welcome, as it filled dams that have been dry for years. Despite the record rainfall, much of the south remains in exceptional drought conditions.

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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