Who is in control in a crisis?

I-Hsien Porter

Hosepipe bans are already in force in north-west England, which has experienced an unusually dry summer. On Monday 2nd August, British Waterways reacted to the drought by closing parts of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, in Lancashire and North Yorkshire. Clearly, both of these actions are intended to conserve water in order to prevent shortages.

In Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Graham Haughton (1998) reviews the management of a previous drought crisis in the area. The events recounted by Haughton provide an interesting twist to the usual discourse of crisis management.

The summer of 1995 was unexpectedly dry. Yorkshire Water warned the public that the mains water supply to areas of West Yorkshire might need to be cut off, with standpipes put in place on the streets.

However, public perception was that mismanagement of water supplies was as much responsible for the crisis as the drought itself. Yorkshire Water was allegedly reliant on inaccurate forecasts of water use and had given the impression that it was not investing substantially in reducing leakages from pipes.

The resulting public pressure forced institutional changes in how water was managed. This challenges a traditional one-way view of the relationship between the public and institutions responsible for crisis management. This view might even be more widely applicable in societal and environmental challenges.

Haughton, G. (1998) “Private profits – public drought: the creation of a crisis in water management for West Yorkshire.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 23: 419-433

“Drought forces partial closure of Leeds & Liverpool Canal.” British Waterways press release. 13th July 2010.

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