Survey: Brits blame climate change for droughts and fear impact on water and food supplies in years ahead

15 August 2022
WaterAid/ Rob Heilig

The climate crisis has hit the UK over the past weeks, according to Britons across the country, as 4 in 5 (78%) think that climate change had a ‘great deal’ or ‘fair amount’ of impact on the recent droughts in the UK, a new poll found. Only 4 percent said climate change had no impact on the dry spells at all.

The polling comes as flash flood warnings are now in place across the UK following the declared drought.

This summer’s extreme weather may well have fanned fears of climate change among the British public, as almost 2 in 3 people think it will have a ‘great deal’ or ‘fair amount’ of impact on access to safe and clean water (63%) and food (67%) in the coming 15 years.

More than half (53%) of the people who were interviewed for the poll believe the crisis will impact their health, or the health of their loved ones. 

When asked to rank the impacts of climate change that would be most damaging, the respondents were most likely to rank ‘increased water shortages’ in their top three (49%), followed by ‘loss of biodiversity and wildlife’ (44%) and ‘increased food shortages (43%).

Over half (56%) of the UK population believe the UK’s foreign aid programme should prioritise providing access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene to help people adapt to the impacts of climate change. Compared to just 10% who selected ‘providing access to healthcare’ and 9% who selected ‘providing access to food’.

The worrying outcomes of the survey, commissioned by WaterAid and carried out by YouGov, show the vital need for the next Prime Minister to take the lead on a cross-government strategy on global water security in coordination with other nations, WaterAid said.

Bernard Aryeetey, Director of International Affairs at WaterAid, said: 

“What is happening here is happening across Europe and the globe; this is one the UK can’t solve on its own. It’s essential the new Prime Minister puts in place a cross-Government strategy on global water security, acknowledging that water is as vital as energy or food for communities in the UK and abroad. This is the only way to combat the increasing impact the climate crisis is having on one of our most precious resources.”

Global water security is vital to tackle the impacts of climate change, WaterAid said, as it builds inclusive and resilient societies, it bolsters health and can help curb the next global pandemic, it increases food security and economic growth, it advances gender equality and decreases the risk of conflict or instability.

Aryeetey continued:

“In the five years to 2020, the UK taxpayer has helped bring water, hygiene, and sanitation to 62 million people, saving the lives of children who die from drinking dirty water, allowing girls to access education, and stopping pregnant mothers and new-borns from dying of preventable diseases - achievements the UK should be proud of.

“But this progress, and meeting some national security objectives are at risk because of a two-thirds cut in UK funding for global water security since 2018. In contrast, the US has recently made global water security a major part of its foreign policy.”

An estimated 771 million people currently don’t have safe, clean water close to home. According to a UN report, by 2050 an estimated 40% of the world’s population will live under severe water stress. The UK’s Environment Agency has already said that if no action is taken between 2025 and 2050, over 3,400 million extra litres of water per day will be needed in the UK for resilient public water supply.

Whilst this is a gloomy picture, according to the poll Brits are already willing to do their bit to conserve water. Half of the British public (50%) would take shorter showers, with those in Scotland more likely to shorten their shower (59%) compared to the rest of Britain (47% in the Midlands/Wales; 51% in London; 52% in the south; 47% in the North).

In further efforts to save water, 30% would be willing to urinate whilst using the shower, and over four in ten (45%) of the population would flush the toilet less often.

To help people face the devastating impacts of climate change, WaterAid calls on the UK Government to take action with its G20 partners at the climate ministers meeting at the end of August, and at COP27 in November, to deliver on the $100bn adaptation finance plan to help developing countries adapt to the impacts of climate change - especially those associated with drought, flooding and water pollution.


For more information, please contact: 

In London:

Jemima Young, [email protected] or call our after-hours press line on +44 (0)7887 521 552   

Notes to Editors: 

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1,781 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 11th - 12th August 2022.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 28 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 28 million people with clean water and nearly 29 million people with decent toilets. 

For more information, visit our website, follow us on Twitter @WaterAidUK, @WaterAid or @WaterAidPress, or find us on Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram

  • 771 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water close to home.[1] 
  • 1.7 billion people in the world – more than one in five – do not have a decent toilet of their own.[2] 
  • Around 290,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's more than 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.[3] 
  • Every £1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of £4 in increased productivity.[4] 
  • Just £15 can provide one person with clean water.[5] 
  1. WHO/UNICEF (2021) Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2020. Joint Monitoring Programme. Geneva: World Health Organisation.  
  2. WHO/UNICEF (2021) Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2020. Joint Monitoring Programme. Geneva: World Health Organisation.  
  3. WaterAid calculations based on: Prüss-Ustün A, et al. (2019). Burden of Disease from Inadequate Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Selected Adverse Health Outcomes: An Updated Analysis with a Focus on Low- and Middle-Income Countries. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health. vol 222, no 5, pp 765-777. AND The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (2020) Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. Seattle, WA: University of Washington.  
  4. World Health organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage