Forecasting a hot, dry future

Published online 26 September 2022

An innovative monitoring technology is helping the world’s driest region predict and manage the impacts of drought.

Kira Walker

Agadir, Morocco
Agadir, Morocco
Ayoubag/ CC BY-SA 4.0
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is the driest region in the world and home to 12 of the world’s most water-scarce countries, with water availability per person roughly six times less than the global average. Rising temperatures and evaporation rates, combined with reductions in precipitation across the region, are exacerbating challenges to water and food security. In recent years, droughts have become more frequent, extensive and severe, degrading land and jeopardising health, livelihoods and economies. Droughts and their impacts are expected to intensify as climate change worsens.

The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) has now developed a drought monitoring and preparedness programme for the region in collaboration with governments in Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco. MENAdrought aims to improve local capacities and implement ways to more effectively anticipate, prepare for and mitigate the impacts of drought.

“Adaptation is needed in all countries of the region to make vital systems, like food and water, less vulnerable to drought. However, adaptation is costly, and needs to be based on science,” says Youssef Brouziyne, IWMI’s MENA regional representative. 

MENAdrought is structured around three pillars: drought monitoring and early warning; vulnerability and impact assessments; and mitigation, preparedness and response planning. “The whole point of the three pillars of drought management is that you should be planning and developing early warning systems when it’s raining. We know crisis reaction isn’t as effective,” says Rachael McDonnell, deputy director general of research for development at IWMI.

As drought monitoring was already in place in Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco, the project aimed to build on what decision-makers and stakeholders said was working. “It was very important to look at where we can add further value to existing systems and co-develop those solutions and implementations,” says McDonnell. 

The drought early warning system integrates satellite and model data on rainfall, land surface temperature, soil moisture and vegetation health into an enhanced Composite Drought Index (eCDI). Maps produced by the eCDI are represented in an interactive web interface, which calculates drought severity and coverage, enabling decision-makers to readily identify an emerging drought with three months warning. The information is used by national agencies to direct early mitigation efforts, with the aim of staving off some of the worst impacts of drought.

Overlaying data from the early warning system with drought vulnerability assessments helps governments understand which locations will be affected most and why, allowing them to more specifically target policies and plans. “Decision-makers, such as water management authorities, can prevent harmful drought consequences more efficiently if information is available on time,” says Brouziyne.

Karim Bergaoui, a meteorology and modelling consultant working with IWMI, says the early warning system has produced good results in Morocco and Jordan, but Lebanon’s mountainous terrain has made rainfall prediction complex. Improvements made to the dynamic models are still not useful for drought forecasting there and more time is needed for further improvements, he explains.

Drought impacts are unique to each country, adds McDonnell, and are a result of the climate and natural environment, as well as the social, economic and political context. “Capturing these localized conditions is critical, but sometimes difficult.”

Fares Yahya, an engineer at the Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture, says the process of developing and operating the drought monitoring system made it clear there was value in sharing information and maintaining strong partnerships between central government agencies, and with local government and academia, to improve the quality of information used to support policy implementation. Publishing drought monitoring data is a significant step for information transparency in Morocco.

The project aims to expand its monitoring of drought impact indicators, such as available crops and water reservoir levels. The early warning system has also been implemented in Tunisia, and McDonnell says there has been interest from other MENA countries. 


This article was written based on a webinar miniseries hosted by IWMI.