Worsening Drought Threatens Australia’s “Food Bowl”


An agricultural region that produces over 40 percent of Australia‘s fruit, vegetables, and grain is seriously threatened by the country’s ongoing drought, which has been developing into a crisis over the last decade. Scientists say that the two mighty rivers that irrigate the Murray-Darling Basin (an area the size of France and Germany combined) received the lowest amount of replenishing autumn rain since record-keeping began over a century ago.

Neil Plummer, acting head of the National Climate Centre, described rainfall during the southern hemisphere autumn as “an absolute shocker”, and said: “I’m gasping for good news”. Wendy Craik, chief executive of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission, said the river system’s condition was “critical… tending towards flatlining”. She added: “We have got it on life support” [The Independent].

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The degrading ecosystem may cause strife between farmers and environmentalists, as the government has said it might be forced to compulsorily acquire water from irrigators, a move that would anger and devastate farm families [The Daily Telegraph]. Conservationists say the mandatory water buy-backs are necessary to protect the wetland habitat of native birds, turtles and fish.

Researchers say that Australia, the driest continent inhabited by humans, may suffer severe consequences from global warming, with droughts and heat waves coming more frequently. The country’s agricultural minister said a recent government report on global warming’s potential consequences reads “more like a disaster novel than a scientific report” [Telegraph].

The Federal Government’s climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut, has also painted a gloomy future for the Murray-Darling unless global warming is addressed. He predicts that by the end of the century the basin will have collapsed as a food-producing region and people will be moving away unless action is taken [Sydney Morning Herald].

Image: flickr/suburbanbloke

July 11th, 2008

Source: Discover Magazine

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