Drought is declared in parts of hot and dry Britain

LONDON — The British government declared a drought in parts of southern, eastern and central England on Friday as the country, unaccustomed to such extreme heat, endured another day of scorching conditions.

The statement came after a group of officials and experts, including the National Drought Group, met to discuss the government’s response to “the driest summer in 50 years”, the agency said. for the environment in a press release. Extreme heat warnings have also been issued for parts of southern England and Wales, just weeks after Britain wilted under some of its highest temperatures on record.

“We are currently experiencing a second heat wave after what was the driest July on record in parts of the country,” UK Water Minister Steve Double said in a statement after the meeting. of the drought group.

“Measures are already being taken by the government and other partners” to deal with the drought, he added.

The declaration, signaling the first official drought in the country since 2018, will allow water companies to impose stricter conservation measures. Several water companies have temporarily banned the use of hoses to water streams and gardens and to wash vehicles.

“Water companies have already been dealing with the unprecedented effects of the driest winter and spring since the 1970s, and with warmer and drier weather forecasts, it is crucial that we are even more careful about our water consumption. water to minimize peaks in demand and ensure there is enough to go around,” Peter Jenkins, communications director at industry body Water UK, said in a statement.

The Met Office, Britain’s national weather service, has issued an extreme heat warning until Sunday for much of the southern half of England and for parts of Wales, stressing that soaring temperatures could not only disrupt travel, but also increase the risk of heat. diseases for certain groups.

Wiggonholt in southern England recorded the highest temperature in the country Thursdays at 93.5 Fahrenheit (34.2 degrees Celsius). As of midday on Friday, temperatures in the south of England had already reached 90.5 degrees Fahrenheit (32.5 degrees Celsius), with hopes they could climb even higher over the weekend, according to the meteorologists. But weather experts have also predicted that conditions won’t be as extreme as those in July, when they first reached over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in Britain.

Threats of heatwaves and wildfires have alarmed UK firefighters who said they were not sufficiently prepared to deal with such extreme weather. Years of cutbacks and central government funding have left fire and rescue services ill-equipped to cope, union officials say.

More than 40 properties were destroyed and 16 firefighters injured in blazes across London on July 19, at the height of that month’s heat wave. Chronic staffing shortages that day meant more than a quarter of the city’s fire engines were unusable, according to the firefighters’ union.

“We’ve been warning about this for so long now,” said Riccardo la Torre, a senior union official. “This problem is not going away.”

London firefighters said they dealt with 340 outdoor fires in the first week of August, more than eight times the number recorded in the same period last year.

the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, Thursday urged residents to avoid grilling on balconies, in parks and in backyards for fear of fires starting.

Several chain stores stopped selling disposable grills during the drought period, The Guardian reported.

The heatwave that swept through Britain in July was made worse by climate change, according to a scientific report. Although it is necessary to analyze the link between a single heat wave and climate change, scientists have no doubt that heat waves around the world are becoming hotter, more frequent and longer lasting. As the burning of fossil fuels causes average global temperatures to rise, the range of possible temperatures also increases, making sizzling highs more likely. This means that every heat wave is now compounded, to some extent, by changes in planetary chemistry caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Dan Roberts, a psychotherapist in London, said on Thursday that due to the extreme heat he was offering patients the option of having appointments via Zoom. “My office is like an oven,” he said, adding that traveling in the heat might also be too much for some. “We really struggle when the temperature gets this high,” he said.

Rising temperatures, Roberts said, can have a negative effect on a person’s emotional well-being.

“What we’re seeing is when the temperatures go up, you get a big spike in things like road rage, violent crime, domestic violence, that kind of stuff,” he said. “The hotter we are, the more volatile our emotions become, especially anger. We can be quick to get angry, we can get angry, be very irritable, frustrated.

In Leeds, northern England, Ashley Moore, an economist who works from home, said he not only moved his desk around his office to avoid the sun, but also worked with fewer clothes and avoided to go in front of the camera.

Mr Moore said he plans to stay cool over the weekend by retreating to local beer gardens and staying near a canal. At home, he bought extra fans. He admitted he was still adjusting.

“It’s nice to go on a warm vacation,” he noted, but, he said, “I don’t expect it here, at this time of year, at this intensity and with this regularity. I don’t appreciate that.

Cora Engelbrecht and Euan district contributed report.