Surviving a drought
Every year, we hear the same old stories of drought, famine, war and genocide - and of those four apocalypse horsemen-style concepts, only one appears to reach the British coastline year after year.
Last month, for instance, was the wettest drought on record in the UK, a month in which continuous rain through most of the British Isles still managed to leave areas without licence to use a hosepipe. Indeed, Friday saw the end of a 32 hour drought in Clapham, where apparently, according to wikipedia's definition of drought, they suffered from "an extended period of months or years [that causes] significant environmental, agricultural, health, economic and social consequences."
Given the current drought in North Korea, and previous droughts in Russia in 2010, China in 2009, as well as several in Africa and other poverty-stricken regions, it seems strange that travelling more than a page or two down the Google search results would get you "Clinton faces a painful drought of victories" and "Pletcher halts drought in style" (referring to politics losses and horse racing defeats respectively) sandwiching "Death Toll rises to 50, drought may force export ban".
Luckily, there's something being done about it. The head of water resources for the Environmental agency has defined the word ‘drought’ as a ‘very blunt term [encompassing] everything from salmon having a little trouble moving up river to hosepipe bans and drought orders’. Consequently, to more reasonably stratify the extent of drought, it has been suggested that a ‘sliding scale’ of severity should be introduced. Internationally, droughts are responsible for disastrous farming seasons and many thousands of deaths, and the reclassification of British counties "from drought status to being environmentally stressed" still seems hardly comparable.
The planned changes are, in the UK, being led by the National Drought Group, including Met Office, Defra, Natural England and the Environment Agency, and include reclassification of some areas to "environmental stress due to rainfall deficit" (ESRDs) - largely due to a public backlash to the supposed "drought" happening at a time when we had the wettest April on record. The previous distinctions, between meteorological droughts, hydrological droughts and economic droughts were confusing to the general public and failed to provide any categorisation of use, experts have suggested.
The proposed separation of definition between low rainfall, low reservoir levels and dry crops will possibly support an easier split in explaining the problems that Brits face, but being able to "survive a drought" in the UK will still be rather easier than the same problem in Africa, where, in 2006, "the gut-wrenching stench of rotting flesh hangs in the air [as] a searing drought...threatens millions with starvation". For us, it represents a few dying plants and some mild ecological trauma - but for the vast majority of the world's denizens, it means a significant increase in the chance of death.
The problem may seem to be a non-issue to many, but when "Oxfam calls for drought action", they refer to "millions of people starving" and not to 32 hours without water on tap in a British surburb. There is, after all, a major difference.