Drought—no longer uncommon topic in England, 1976 drought now 4x more likely to occur

Henny van Lanen, a guest speaker, mentioned in his opening remarks in Oxford’s 2019 conference on Drought and Water Scarcity, water regulators in northwest Europe are biased towards floods and usually do not think about the effects of drought. And yet, Prof. Len Shaffrey, a specialist in meteorology and climate change also at the conference, announced that now the drought of 1976 is 4 times more likely to occur. There is a growing realisation however of the impacts of not having enough water, with the conference occurring in the wake of the speech by Sir James Bevan, the head of the Environment Agency, in which he warned that England could be in the jaws of death due to water scarcity within twenty-five years—no surprise to this audience of experts.

During a two-day conference, over 140 participants discussed the impacts of drought in the UK and throughout Europe and Turkey and the Americas—particularly in the summer of 2018. Comparing challenges and solutions in the international context gave perspectives regarding research in the UK and ideas for new solutions like the use of satellite data. Many sessions honed on technical details around planning and management, climatology, hydrology, and drought impacts, but also flagged the need for more governance and communication, and to place a greater value on water and its use.

This fourth annual conference was organized by the UK Droughts and Water Scarcity programme, which is  composed of five projects: Historic Droughts, Impetus, MaRIUS, DRY (Drought Risk and You), and ENDOWS. ENDOWS was responsible for a vibrant part of the conference where university students from Falmouth University shared their innovative media campaigns to raise issues of drought and water scarcity with the public. Ideas included racing to finish showering before a three-minute song ends. One afternoon breakout session was dedicated to a series of talks on how research can help communities and risk perception through communication to assist in behavioural changes.