The last time a drought was officially declared in England was in 2018.

LONDON – The British government on Friday officially declared drought in parts of England after months of record low rainfall and unprecedented high temperatures in recent weeks.

At a meeting of the National Drought Task Force, the Government’s Environment Agency said parts of south-west, south-central and east England had “reached the drought threshold”.

The last time a drought was officially declared in England was in 2018.

The agency published a report which noted that England had its driest July since 1935.

England and Wales experienced their lowest rainfall since 1976 between January and June this year, the Met Office said.

That summer, radical measures were taken, such as roadside stands and water rationing.

This year’s extreme weather France is also experiencing a record drought and battling massive wildfires.

The UK government said the move to drought status was based on factors such as rainfall, river flows and water table and reservoir levels and their impact on public water supplies.

“We urge everyone to monitor the amount of water they use during this exceptionally dry period,” National Drought Task Force Chairman Harvey Bradshaw said in a statement.

The Environment Agency and water companies “will step up their response” and continue with published drought plans, including measures such as hose bans.

It emphasizes that “basic water supplies are safe.”

England and parts of Wales have been severely parched and three water companies – Welsh Water, Southern Water and South East Water – have banned hoses, while several others are set to follow suit.

Every month of the year except February was drier than average, according to the Met Office.

Satellite images released by NASA in July showed parched brown patches stretching across much of southern England and down to the north-east coast.

The headwaters of the River Thames have dried up and now begin several miles downstream.

Meetings of the National Drought Group are convened by the Environment Agency, which monitors water levels in rivers and groundwater.

The group is made up of senior government and water company executives, as well as other affected groups such as farmers.

Water Minister Steve Double said the government had “made clear” to water companies that “it is their responsibility” to maintain the necessary supplies.

“We are better prepared than ever before for periods of dry weather, but we will continue to monitor the situation closely, including the impact on farmers and the environment,” he added.

But critics point to the billions of liters lost every day by private water companies, whose top management earn millions of pounds each year and which regularly pay dividends to shareholders.

“They really need to get their fingers into action,” Claire Connarty, 61, said while visiting a plant nursery in Kent, southeast London, where the hose ban came into effect on Friday.

“They have leaks everywhere, but then they tell us to limit (usage of) water.”

Fellow shopper Barry Martin, 62, was more sympathetic, noting that leaks were inevitable and that he tried to limit his own waste – including having buckets in the shower to catch excess water.

“I try not to waste,” the pensioner told AFP, adding that because he has a water meter, it helps keep his bills down and conserves an increasingly precious resource.

The Met Office on Tuesday issued an amber warning for “severe heat” in parts of England and Wales from Thursday to Sunday, predicting possible impacts on health, transport and infrastructure.

Temperatures are expected to reach a high of 30C on Friday and into the weekend, followed by showers and thunderstorms.

Temperatures were not expected to reach the record highs seen in July, when Lincolnshire in northeast England recorded 40.3 degrees Celsius (104.5 degrees Fahrenheit) on July 20 during an unprecedented heat wave.

The National Center for Climate Information has said that such high temperatures in the UK are only possible because of human-caused climate change.

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