Hosepipe ban to hit 20 million homes (Reuters)
Hosepipe ban to hit 20 million homes (Reuters)

Twenty million people will be hit by a hosepipe ban in a bid to stave off the worsening drought in the south and east of England.

A Drought Prospects Report by the Environment Agency, due to be released on 13 March, is also expected to reveal that the drought will lead to price increases on potatoes, vegetables, fruit and beer.

The report will add the Midlands and Yorkshire to the area at "high risk" of summer drought after the UK experienced its lowest level of winter rainfall since 1972 and the Met Office reported that there will be no significant rainfall in any of the drought-affected areas over the next month.

Anglian, Southern, Thames, South East and Veolia in the Home Counties, which provide water to nearly a third of the country, are expected to announce hosepipe bans in the next two to four weeks.

Portsmouth Water and Sutton and East Surrey Water may also announce restrictions this month.

The absence of any heavy rainfall in the next few months will guarantee that the cost of home-grown vegetables such as potatoes, onions, carrots and broccoli will increase, according to the National Farmers' Union.

Fewer arable crops, such as wheat and barley, have also been planted, which could lead to price increases on bread and beer.

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said: "The recent rainfall has all been welcome, but there has not been enough to make any significant difference.

"We would need continuous rain until the end of the month to make any difference and forecasts suggest we are not going to get it.

"There have been two years' below-average rainfall and it's more important than ever that we all use water wisely."