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Water Scarcity: An Emerging Climate Issue Even In UK

Updated: Dec 20, 2021

Ogden Reservoir (Rossendale, Lancashire, England UK) in drought in 2003

(photo credit: Steve Johnson)

By Alfred Robert Hogan

Worldwide, some 4 billion of the planet’s 7.8 billion people endure water scarcity for at least one month per year. One-half billion people already suffer water scarcity year-round.

For now, those living in “more developed” countries such as the United Kingdom, site of the 2021 UN COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland, are not yet among those hardest-hit by water scarcity. But that bodes to soon change. The UK is depicted in yellow on a world map as a “Vulnerable” country. (Much of the US West is now drought-afflicted, with much less rainfall, much less snowmelt, and much less water in reservoirs, lakes, rivers, and streams.)

Projections indicate London’s 2018 population of almost 9 million could soar to 13.4 million by 2050, with water demand outpacing supply by 20 percent, even by 2040. And the UK’s total population may soar from 67 million in 2018 to 75 million in 2050. While England has been long noted for its frequent rainy and foggy weather ("London Fog" is even a well-known raincoat line), precipitation in southeastern England will be especially affected by the climate crisis, which will increasingly bring hotter and drier summers, barring drastic preventive actions.

The British Isles have suffered several grim, brief, warning “previews” of prospective future droughts and heat waves in recent decades. In June-July-August 1976, 20 percent “excess deaths” occurred in the UK, 500 million Pounds Sterling of crops failed (hiking food prices by 12 percent), and forest fires raged in parts of southern England (destroying some 50,000 trees in Dorset, England), among other effects. (Heat waves recurred in 1995 and 2003, too.)

In 2019, Sir James Bevan, the longtime diplomat named chief executive of the UK’s Environment Agency in 2015, bluntly estimated that England would suffer serious water shortages, within just 20 to 25 years. To the BBC, in an online article posted on 19 March 2019, echoing an official report from July 2018, Bevan foretold of the “jaws of death—the point at which, unless we take action, we will not have enough water to supply our needs.”

Consequences range from less canoeing and less punting on riverways to less wildlife and more thirsty humans. Millions of people, especially those less fortunate, could suffer from lack of the life-sustaining liquid, H20. Yet, average daily household water usage rose from 85 liters in the 1960s to 143 liters now. Some of the coping tactics to address the looming problem suggested include:

  • Fixing leaky water pipes (which may account for half of wasted water)

  • Building desalination plants near seashores (to turn salt water into fresh water)

  • Abolishing animal agriculture (which uses and pollutes vast amounts of water)

  • Banning “natural gas” fracking (which also both uses and pollutes vast amounts of water)

  • Install efficient low-flow shower heads

  • Upgrade to water-efficient clothes washing machines

  • Do not use dishwashers till they are full

  • Building controversial new mega-reservoirs (which would destroy woodlands).

Related resources and articles:

** UK Water Drought article from Wired Magazine

Related resources—organizations:

** Circle of Blue – “where water speaks”

** Water Footprint Network

** Food & Water Action/Food & Water Europe (HQ in Brussels) “Saving Our Food, Water, and Climate by Changing Our Politics”

** Greenpeace UK (HQ in London)

** Waterwise/Rand

** National Environment Research Council (UK) “UK Droughts & Water Scarcity” https:///

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