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Thursday, 10 July 2008

South Australia drought worsens : BBC

A New South Wales farmer walks through a dusty field after its barley crop failed, 26 October, 2006
Australia is facing its worst drought in a century

A long-running drought in Australia's main food-growing region, the Murray-Darling river basin, has significantly worsened according to a new report.

Three months of dry weather, and the driest June on record, have plunged the area back into drought, the Murray-Darling Basin Commission says.

Crossing much of south-east Australia, the Murray-Darling is the country's most important river system.

The basin produces 40% of Australia's fruit, vegetables and grain.

Experts say the drought will hit irrigated crops like rice and grapes the hardest, because other crops, such as wheat, depend more on rainfall during specific periods.

'An absolute shocker'

The Chief Executive of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Wendy Craik, said that until there was significant rain and run-off, prospects for irrigation remained grim.

Dr Craik warned that while human demand along the Murray Darling river would still be met, other water requirements might not.

"If the sort of climatic regime we've had in the past couple of years becomes a feature of the future, it's pretty clear we don't have the volume of water available that we've had in the past. Clearly the basin is not going to be the same," she said.

A spokesman for the Bureau of Meteorology National Climate Centre, Neil Plummer, added: "Autumn can only be described as an absolute shocker in terms of climate conditions for the basin".

Government leaders recently agreed an Aus$3.7bn (US$3.6 bn) plan to conserve water in the area.

But scientists say that without sufficient water flow by October, the unique ecology of the lower reaches of the river system will be irreversibly damaged.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has already admitted that his government's new conservation plan will not produce results fast enough to meet this deadline.

Large swathes of Australia have been affected by the worst drought in a century, hindering the country's economic growth and bankrupting many farmers.

Thanks: BBC

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