Alex Fusco: Those thirsting for drama would call this a drought


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The Independent Online

It was announced yesterday that the Environment Agency has "declared drought" in more than half the country – alarmist phrasing doing little to douse the panic currently blazing across Southern England.

Was there really any need to "declare" drought? Was someone attempting to smuggle it into the country unnoticed? Were we teetering on the brink of a state of drought, and a final week without so much of a trickle of rainfall led to such a monumental announcement? I doubt it.

And "drought"? Frankly, with the richness of the English language, there must be another word to describe a lack of water on such a mild scale. Surely "drought" cannot be used to describe both the situation in East Africa, in which parched earth, famine and cholera threaten the lives of millions, and the slight inconvenience of a hosepipe ban in East Anglia? What next – will the BBC be sending Lenny Henry to Hampshire to make a short film about cracked and malnourished front lawns?

First-world problems do not merit third-world terminology. I don't declare a famine every time the cupboards are running low – I go shopping. Whilst the cost of transporting water apparently renders such an approach impractical, surely it is possible to secure a couple of tankers, from Scotland or Wales, on the cheap? The two countries are notorious for an abysmally high rainfall – they must be hoarding the stuff, saving it for a...oh no, wait.

In order to counteract the effects of such a drought the Environment Agency is implementing a hose-pipe ban across a great swathe of the country. Those caught sneaking out in the dead of night to water their lawn or wash mud off their hub-caps can expect a £1,000 fine. Obviously, EA officials won't actually be prowling the streets at night to catch these criminals in flagrant disregard of the new regulations; instead, they will be relying upon the obsessively law-abiding citizens living nearby, encouraging them to inform on their environmentally-negligent neighbours. As the grass stops growing, the growers start grassing, it would seem.

On a final note, in order to counteract such a debilitating water shortage, the Environment Agency is hoping for a prolonged period of rainfall during the winter of 2012-13. In a country where the climate encourages ice-cream van drivers to emigrate, and the 'cold snap' bites in October and doesn't let go until April, we must now hope for four months of monsoons to prevent another "drought" ravaging the country again next year.

In all honesty, I'd rather take another hosepipe ban.

Alex Fusco is studying English and creative writing at the University of Warwick.

Simon Kelner is away