Australia's Epic Drought: The Situation Is Grim
By Kathy Marks
The Independent UK
Friday 20 April 2007
Sydney - Australia has warned that it will have to switch off the water supply to the continent's food bowl unless heavy rains break an epic drought - heralding what could be the first climate change-driven disaster to strike a developed nation.
The Murray-Darling basin in south-eastern Australia yields 40 per cent of the country's agricultural produce. But the two rivers that feed the region are so pitifully low that there will soon be only enough water for drinking supplies. Australia is in the grip of its worst drought on record, the victim of changing weather patterns attributed to global warming and a government that is only just starting to wake up to the severity of the position.
The Prime Minister, John Howard, a hardened climate-change skeptic, delivered dire tidings to the nation's farmers yesterday. Unless there is significant rainfall in the next six to eight weeks, irrigation will be banned in the principal agricultural area. Crops such as rice, cotton and wine grapes will fail, citrus, olive and almond trees will die, along with livestock.
A ban on irrigation, which would remain in place until May next year, spells possible ruin for thousands of farmers, already debt-laden and in despair after six straight years of drought.
Lovers of the Australian landscape often cite the poet Dorothea Mackellar who in 1904 penned the classic lines: "I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains." But the land that was Mackellar's muse is now cracked and parched, and its mighty rivers have shrivelled to sluggish brown streams. With paddocks reduced to dust bowls, graziers have been forced to sell off sheep and cows at rock-bottom prices or buy in feed at great expense. Some have already given up, abandoning pastoral properties that have been in their families for generations. The rural suicide rate has soared.
It isn't nice to fool (with) Mother Nature...