Drought puts an end to an Outback dream

To those of us who grew up in the 49 states, the concept of a drought has always seemed incongruous. Texas is a rain-filled state; the Southeast is water-rich. The North is lined with…

Drought puts an end to an Outback dream

To those of us who grew up in the 49 states, the concept of a drought has always seemed incongruous. Texas is a rain-filled state; the Southeast is water-rich. The North is lined with rivers that reach from New England to California and the Rockies. The Southwest is in constant outdoor irrigation.

Even during a drought, Florida is still Florida.

But the driest areas of the country – including Australia, now experiencing its worst drought in recorded history – are a surprise to most people accustomed to water-worshiping. Drought is nothing new to the Outback, as it’s known, but the current drought of “The Dryness” is unprecedented.

SEE MORE: Why Clogged Drainage Channels Are Hurting Florida Water

Desert, the country’s largest state, has been in drought since 2014, but there was already plenty of water for fish and water birds to use. In the north, the driest part of the country, the drought is caused by over-grazing and farm chemicals making the soil too dry to hold water.

What started as an agriculture drought has morphed into a very-human drought. People lost their livelihoods — farms and irrigation systems were shut down, putting people out of work — all because of a lack of water. And it has already caused long-term social problems: Kids are putting chlorine on their school water because the catchment areas where they drink have become unsanitary.

This drought and its impact is now attracting attention from the world at large.

While the official drought is in its fourth year, a water shortage of a particular type — the Eucalyptus Plumbing — has been starting to cause water shortages. Eucalyptus trees are notoriously thirsty, which can cause water shortages in fields and drinking supplies across the country. The US Department of Agriculture says that a long-term dryness will likely cause more than $2.5 billion worth of crop damages and up to 2,300 plant deaths.

Australian farmers fear that long-term drought could seriously impact their economy and farmers are worried that Australia may soon look like much more of a desert than a rain-laden state. They say our drought could be that much worse for the South.

The Outback’s rural areas still rely on heavy irrigation for irrigation to water crops and grazing land. Even with the epic drought in Australia in the first few years of the century, agriculture still had time to adapt.

The Australian Ministry of Agriculture predicts that as Australia’s agricultural potential is tapped out, future farmers will have to be even more creative with agricultural production.

As farming becomes more difficult, there is also a chance for transition.

Over the next five to 10 years, Australia’s agricultural potential is tipped to be hugely increased by technology, but this, in turn, may make farming even more difficult, as water becomes more scarce. The economic competition between big corporations in an already-over-crowded market of agriculture products could create a vicious cycle, with small farmers competing more and more with each other to supply the same water.

Australia’s poverty rate has fallen sharply in the past 10 years. According to a recent report by the government of New South Wales, the state has taken in thousands of refugees from Syria and Iraq in recent years, who are benefitting from higher-than-average incomes and a rapidly-expanding pool of skilled foreign labour.

Whether Australia can implement reforms — and as temperatures continue to rise, there will undoubtedly be a growing list of social problems — remains to be seen. But for now, the hardship of this drought is terrifying.

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