Drought in the UK is usually a term associated with ‘heat wave’ and something the British consider to be a temporary, passing condition. After all, we are mostly known for having a cold, wet and damp climate with odd bursts of sunshine – which perhaps explains our obsession with the weather.
The heat wave of 1976 really threw us. A dry winter followed by a dry summer including sixteen consecutive days of temperatures over 30Celsius resulted in reservoirs drying up, water rationing and a deficit that continued for several months. As such, the drought stands out in our recent history in terms of both its duration and severity.
But the hottest August on record in the Northern hemisphere in 2003 recorded the first over 100 Fahrenheit temperature in the UK on August 10th. Two thousand people died as a direct result of the heat in our country. (14,802 in France, 7000 in Germany, 4200 in Spain and Italy.) This is nineteen times bigger than the death toll from the SARS epidemic.
Heat waves are already claiming more lives each year than floods, tornadoes and hurricanes combined.
And by the end of this century, the average world temperature is predicted to climb by 1.4 to 5.8oC.
And yet the UK still craves its sunny spells – the opportunity to get out of the cold and wet – and in celebrating their short lived arrival we inadvertently silence and make invisible real stories of water scarcity. Who could believe that even amongst all this water, we could be suffering a drought?
Ragab Ragab, from Natural Environment Research Council’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology at Wallingford, says, “It is evident nowadays that the UK has been subjected to unprecedented events of extreme weather. For example, winter 2013-2014 was marked with flood followed by drought in March 2014. The problem we are facing now is how we build community resilience adapted and able to cope with such changing climate. The UK Met Office indicated that such ‘extreme events’ will become increasingly regular in the future. Scientists are now focusing on solutions to protect the environment from the damage caused by drought extreme events as well as flooding.”
The Drought Risk & You (DRY) project began in 2014. This £3.2m initiative is aimed at providing new evidence for managing future droughts based on science and experience with expertise in hydrology, meteorology, agriculture and ecology from eight universities and research institutions.
The project will focus on developing solutions, and risk management strategies for short and long term drought events.
Joanne Garde-Hansen, Reader in Culture, Media and Communication at the University of Warwick is an active contributing member of DRY. To see an edited excerpt of a recent blog posting by her click here.