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Water shortages still likely to affect UK food security

Following the wettest winter for 250 years, it would be fair to assume that water shortages are unlikely to be a problem in Britain for some time.

However, a paper published today in ‘Climate Research’ journal by Loughborough University and University of Bath researchers warns that food security in Britain faces a real threat from water shortages in other parts of the world.

Many of the commodities we use every day, such as food and manufactured goods, and especially those that rely on the availability of land or water, are sensitive to climate change on a global scale.

Researchers looked at the water used to create 25 of Britain’s most economically significant and climate-sensitive imports - essential items such as crops, meat, fish, fuels, pharmaceuticals and paper. In 2010, these products represented 30 per cent of Britain’s imports and required 12.8billion cubic metres of water.

From this they compared the need for water with models that show the changes in our economy and those that show changes in the availability of global resources such as water, and determine how secure Britain’s future imports are. Result showed Britain is likely to become increasingly susceptible to a loss of global water availability in the future.

Dr Alistair Hunt from the University of Bath’s Department of Economics said: “Britain is susceptible to pressures on global water resources because the national water footprint and water import dependency are relatively high even before climate change and population growth are considered.

“Some of Britain’s most important water-trading partners are already water scarce and now face increasing scarcity from climate change.

“Our study highlights that even in a time when water may be of huge abundance within Britain, its scarcity in other parts of the world is likely to have negative consequences for British people.”

The research group has also been able to outline how countries like Britain that depend on climate-sensitive imported resources can reduce risk, through measures such as investing in the development of exporting nations, and by improving trade relations with potential new supplying nations.

Co-author Robert Wilby, Professor of Hydroclimatic Modelling at Loughborough University added:

“Our research shows we really do need a more integrated approach to land, water and food, if we are to meet the challenges posed by climate change at home and abroad”.

You can access the paper abstract online