Impact 5
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risk indicator
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Impact & Likelihood
Impact key
5 Catastrophic
4 Significant
3 Moderate
2 Limited
1 Minor
Likelihood key
5 >25%
4 5-25%
3 1-5%
2 0.2-1%
1 <0.2%


A drought may occur following a period of abnormally low rainfall, which results in a shortage of water. The future risk of droughts due to climate change is increasing, and there is a trend towards hotter summers with associated high water demand. Simultaneously, changes in consumer habits and population growth is increasing water use in the UK.
Drought impacts can be reduced through water efficiency campaigns and amplified via national messaging to encourage the public to reduce water demand. Interventions to support farmers are available, ranging from the protection of water rights to providing funding research and development on water management.


The reasonable worst-case scenario is based on large parts of South and East England facing severe drought conditions after 3 consecutive dry winters. Neighbouring areas of the Midlands and South West would face drought-related impacts and there would need to be public water supply restrictions. There would be significant losses to the UK economy, with serious impacts on industry, agriculture and businesses. Severe environmental damage due to drought conditions would occur, along with an increased fire risk due to dry conditions. This would be combined with a reduced ability to fight fires due to water scarcity.

Key assumptions

Three consecutive dry years would be required in order for a severe or emergency drought to occur. This would allow for preparations to begin ahead of time and for mitigations to be put in place.


There are likely to be significant regional variations. A drought may end sooner than expected if a wetter period of weather occurs.

Response capability requirements

The Environment Agency (EA) and water companies have comprehensive systems in place to monitor rainfall and water resources. National coordination plans are in place through the EA and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This is overseen by the National Drought Group. A range of regulatory restrictions, including limiting the amount of water that farmers and businesses are allowed to abstract from rivers, and consumer communication campaigns to encourage reducing water consumption can help to make water supplies last as long as possible. Water companies may also consider Temporary Usage Bans to manage water resources.


How quickly rainfall reaches normal levels, and the depth of impacts that have occurred during the drought, would impact the speed of recovery. Most businesses would recover as soon as normal water supply is resumed, though heavily water-reliant businesses may take several months or years to recover. A severe drought of the type modelled in this scenario would pose particularly difficult challenges for the recovery of the natural environment.