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Is the civil society doing enough to tackle water scarcity in the UK?

It is evident that water scarcity is increasingly problematic as climate change emerges, yet little has its scope been acknowledged in developed nations such as the UK. Due to population growth, pressures on water sources increase. This makes water scarce overall, with the UK as no exception. This blog will discuss water scarcity in the UK and question whether the civil society’s current efforts are efficient to solve this problem.

Source: BBC news: Low water levels at Wayoh Reservoir near Bolton in the UK heatwave in July 2018 -

In its World Water Development Report 2019, the UN projects that more than 5 billion people are likely to suffer from water shortages by 2050 as a result of ‘climate change, increased demand and polluted supply’. So how and why is water considered ‘scarce’ in such nations as the UK?

It is evident that the UK water supply reduces during summertime and is then replenished by the winter rain. However, this is not enough to cope with the UK population at its largest ever due to its high net migration and low death rates, as well as climate change with the hottest days reaching 35 degrees this summer. Global warming raises the need for more clean water and sanitation services, but it simultaneously pressurised water supply despite the widespread deterioration of water infrastructure in the UK. Researchers affirm that constructing more reservoirs here will certainly improve the water supply, but this has not taken place in the UK for decades. Reasons include complicated legal constraints, urban planning, and pre-eminently, the high objection rate of locals who are unaware of the significance of water scarcity in the UK and its impacts on future generations. Moreover, water companies are undoubtedly liable for UK flooding and water leakages. Despite the private sector’ control over most lakes, reservoirs andriver, not many water pipelines have been refurbished. Also, apart from Southern Water, very few companies have committed to a specific reduction in water leakage in the upcoming years.

Furthermore, the UN evaluates that when access to clean water is reduced, every global citizen’s basic human rights is hampered. This therefore requires civil society’s actions as they are responsible for raising public awareness of water scarcity and encouraging multiple actors’ resolutions to protect civilians’ livelihoods. But are their current actions sufficiently productive and what can else can they do?

Firstly, civil society plays an important role in liaising between businesses and local authorities,yet this needs to be more practical rather than solely advising the reduction of water pollution and leakage. Using UN SDGs as all parties’ common end goal, civil servants are to promote the integration and sharing of assets and infrastructures across multiple utilities, including water,energy, waste, and telecommunications. Better collaboration through collaborative planning and integrated asset management will help businesses in searching for the latest trends of water usage, thus gain more public trust and mutual urge to act upon it. To illustrate, the International Water Association’s DroughtAction, in its junior years of establishment, has initiated forums for multiple actors including business, government, NGOs and research institutions to build resilient water systems. If we develop other environmental agendas similar to this one, risks of leakage,flooding and water scarcity should be better managed, all on the condition of more strategic investments. Additionally, publics and local authorities may join hands to advocate immediate policies to the government in reduction of future harms, for example via the UN HouseScotland’s Parliamentary One Pagers and direct lobbying.

Secondly, water companies are indeed responsible for organising emergency responses to flooding, but civil society needs to utilise its huge population and non-for-profit feature to form more compelling emergency plans and encourage sharing equipment. According to Water UK, most companies are productively helping to keep sewers flowing and preventing pipes from being overloaded by flood water. In addition, from a more local perspective, the UK environmental charity Waste and Resource Action Programme further demands businesses to follow ‘water stewardship’. To ensure all emergency measures are up to date, they suggest local authorities and civil servants to supervise the supply chains of as many water businesses as possible as they are all interrelated to one another, the government, and the environment. In support of this positive action, civil servants should encourage people to not only phone water companies’ emergency numbers in case of sewer flooding, but also employ more preventive mechanisms. Amongst the youth, this can be achieved via voluntary campaigns such as cleaning the sewage, cleaning beaches, and especially building more trees.

To sum up, water scarcity is indeed an urgent issue in the UK, and it is evident that current civil society actions in tackling water scarcity are only effective to a small extent. They have mainly targeted policy makers to introduce resolving laws and regulations. Consequently, they need to include more businesses, peoples, and local authorities to prevent further threats of water scarcity and tailoring more case-specific emergency procedures.

More to consult about the water situation in the UK:

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