When you’re looking out at heavy rain, it’s difficult to imagine drought as an issue in the UK. So the statistic that there is less fresh water per person in the South East of England than there is per person in Morocco is quite shocking.
While some areas are running out of water, other areas are underwater. So what’s happening to our weather and why are droughts and flooding more common? More importantly, how can we prepare for and work to prevent the damage from the impacts of climate change?
A world with less water
We tend to think of droughts as something that happen in Africa. They do of course, and when they happen, they leave the world’s poorest people extremely vulnerable. But a quick look at the Met Office’s weather maps from the past year shows that rainfall is decreased dramatically, especially the East of England.
As the world warms, water evaporates from the soil faster and our weather patterns are changing - producing wetter, milder winters and drier, hotter summers.The UN estimates that by 2050, two thirds of the world will be living under ‘water stressed conditions’ due to global warming with “drought and water scarcity considered to be the most far-reaching of all natural disasters”.
By 2050, 1.8 billion humans will experience absolute water scarcity
So what about floods?
The rise in flooding in the UK in recent years is not a coincidence. For every one degree increase in temperature, the atmosphere can hold 7% more water, so heavy downpours, even during periods of drought, are becoming more common.
Flooding is exacerbated by changes to land use. Trees and plants soak up water from the ground, so urbanisation is a big problem, particularly in flood plains. When vegetation is cleared for buildings or roads, or dies dues to drought, the land is less absorbent, so this increases surface water run-off and reduces natures’ natural buffer to slow the flow of large volumes of water. This is why an increasing number of homes and businesses are at risk of flooding – currently over 5 million in England alone!
The solutions to floods and droughts at home
The ultimate way to stop more and more floods and droughts is to stop burning fossil fuels. But there are many things we can do to reduce the impact of droughts and floods on our home and families.
Here are some actions you can take to conserve water and be drought ready.
You can help prevent water shortages by:
- Eating less meat. Just one steak can take up to 50 bathtubs of water to produce.
- Letting the grass grow longer - and let the weeds grow too! Dandelions and buttercups are great for bees and a monocultured, perfectly mown lawn is a poor use of land management.
- Switching from the hose pipe - using water butts to collect water for your garden.
- Never letting water go down the drain unless you have to. Reuse it to water the garden. Most soaps (not bleach) are okay to use outside in the garden.
- Fixing leaky pipes and dripping taps - you’d be amazed how the drops add up.
- Having short showers and shallow baths
- Not flushing the loo unless necessary; if it’s yellow let it mellow…..
You can prepare for flooding by:
- Check if you’re at risk of flooding.
- Sign up for Environment Agency flood alerts
- Ensure you are covered for floods in your household insurance policy.
- Using this template to make a personal flood plan and ask your council about relocation and evacuation routes and plans
- Form a local flood plan group and let your neighbours know especially vulnerable people
- Prepare an emergency kit - the Red Cross tells you how.
- Look into flood resistance and resilience measures for your home such as door barriers and solid floors
- Making sure, if you are flooded, you turn the electricity off at the mains and evacuate when asked to by the emergency services.
These are small steps and the problem is big. But more and more people are getting on board with the changes we need to make. Now is the time for all of us to take a stand against climate change, but also to prepare for the impacts of climate change that are already with us in the UK.
Map image courtesy of the MET office
House image courtesy of Know Your Flood Risk Campaign