Middle East: Widespread water deficits will emerge on the Arabian Peninsula

28 May 2019

The forecast for the 12-month period ending January 2020 indicates widespread, intense water deficits on the Arabian Peninsula including exceptional deficits in pockets of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and western Oman.

Intense deficits are also forecast for southern Iraq along with conditions of both deficit and surplus as transitions occur. Moderate to severe deficits are forecast for northwestern Turkey and in Georgia, and moderate deficits in central Iran.

Exceptional surpluses are forecast from northern Syria into Turkey; Iraq along the northern Euphrates River and from the Tigris River well into western Iran; and along Iran’s Caspian Sea coast and its border with Turkmenistan. These areas of surplus include Aleppo (Syria); Mosul, Kirkuk, and Baghdad (Iraq); and Tehran, Iran.

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

The forecast through July indicates that widespread water surpluses will persist in the region from northern Syria into southern Turkey, from the Tigris River in Iraq well into western Iran, and in northern Iran along the Caspian coast and the border with Turkmenistan. The extent of exceptional surplus will diminish slightly, but surpluses ranging from severe to exceptional will remain widespread. Moderate to extreme surpluses will reach further into Fars Province in southwestern Iran. Primarily moderate surpluses are forecast for Cyprus, northern Israel, and southern Lebanon.

Widespread, intense deficits are forecast for the Arabian Peninsula with exceptional deficits in many areas including central Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and pockets of Oman. Extreme to exceptional deficits are forecast for Kuwait, southern Iraq, and west of the Euphrates. Severe deficits are expected to emerge in central Iran’s Yazd Province along with more intense deficits along Iran’s Persian Gulf coast and southern coast on the Gulf of Oman. Severe deficits will increase in Georgia and in Turkey and will emerge along the Kizilirmak River in central Turkey.

From August through October, deficits will persist on the Arabian Peninsula and the extent of exceptional deficits will increase. Intense surpluses will persist from northeastern Iraq into western Iran but conditions of both surplus and deficits (purple) are forecast as transitions occur in northern Syria and the eastern Mediterranean coast, northwestern Iran, Iran’s border with Turkmenistan, and provinces north of the Persian Gulf. Deficits in central and eastern Iran will increase and intensify, while deficits in Georgia and Turkey will moderate overall.

In the final quarter – November 2019 through January 2020 – deficits will downgrade on the Arabian Peninsula and in Iran’s eastern two-thirds. Surpluses are forecast in Turkey along the Kizilirmak and Murat Rivers, northern Syria, northeastern Iraq, and northwestern Iran.

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

Flood damages are expected to total around $2.5 billion following excessive heavy rains in Iran this spring. The floods between March and April killed at least 76 people and led to a crackdown on journalists reporting on the disaster, especially those who implicated authorities for being ill-prepared. Iran’s western Lorestan Province received the most rain over the last eight months, totalling 966.9 mm (38.1 in) and exceeding its long term average by about 91.9 percent. The unprecedented flooding event escalated to the theater of international politics, in which President Hassan Rouhani blamed U.S. sanctions for hampering Iranian relief efforts, while U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed the Iranian regime for mismanagement and underpreparedness.

Following heavy rainfall at the end of 2018, Iraqi marshes are experiencing their highest water levels since they were reclaimed in 2003. Only a year ago, most of the marshlands, which constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site, were largely desiccated by upstream damming and chronic drought. The historic marshscape changed when Saddam Hussein drained the marshes to flush out area rebels, the Marsh Arabs, whom he accused of treachery during the 1980-1988 war with Iran. The marshes were re-flooded only after Saddam’s overthrow in 2003 but both the traditional culture and the ecology of the marshes have since struggled to thrive.

An unseasonable cold front and “ice floods” swept across deserts in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates last month, concerning scientists that the anomaly, amid a stretch of dry years, is likely a symptom of climate change.

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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