Water Scarcity in the UK

(Simon Annable/Shutterstock.com)

Despite our focus on the problems of flooding caused by changing weather patterns, severe storms and rising sea levels, water scarcity is another problem exacerbated by climate change. By this we mean clear, non-polluted, non-toxic, actually drinkable and life-sustaining H20.

Worldwide, some four billion of the planet’s 7.8 billion people endure water scarcity for at least one month per year, and 0.5 billion people already suffer water scarcity year-round. At the present time, those living in the UK are not yet among those hardest-hit by water scarcity (the UK is among those depicted on a world map showing levels of water scarcity as only a ‘vulnerable’ country.)

But that is likely to change soon. 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% 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, precipitation in southeastern England will be especially affected by the climate crisis, which will bring increasingly hotter and drier summers without drastic preventive actions.

The British Isles have suffered several grim, brief, warning “previews” of prospective future droughts and heat waves in recent decades. From June–August 1976, 20% of “excess deaths” occurred in the UK; £500m of crops failed (hiking food prices by 12%); 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 20–25 years. An article on the BBC website, posted on 19 March 2019, echoed an official report from July 2018 in which 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 of water scarcity include a range of effects – from a reduction in water sports activities such as canoeing and punting to wildlife and, ultimately, to many more thirsty humans. Millions of people, especially those who are less fortunate, could suffer from lack of this vital, life-sustaining fluid. Yet, average daily household water usage rose from 85 liters in the 1960s to 143 liters now.