Yet another drought crisis
Russell Degnan

"... the Australian historical reaction to drought has been generally to view its onset with indignant surprise. The denigration of the drought hazard has been implicit in official disaster relief which has always assumed drought to be a temporary and short-lived phenomenon and has not sought to reward those who sought to buffer themselves against drought impacts."
R L Heathcote in 'A Drought Walked Through' - Keating, J. 1992

And so it goes.

Drought is coming, drought is always coming, drought is also always leaving, and always present. But farmers want relief regardless. Anybody familiar with Australia's water history -- which farmers should be, some are, although some don't want to admit it -- will know recognise that drought happens. Often.

To look at the climate charts on the Bureau of Meteorology you wouldn't recognise the drought as being serious. Most of Australia has had typical rainfall in the past 18 months. Although some parts have still not recovered from several years ago. In the book quoted above, a larger problem was identified:

"[...] there has been a persistent and enduring reluctance to recognise drought as a permanent feature of Australian life. Records show that for only twenty years out of every hundred is the whole of Australia 'drought-free'"

Guy Rundle's amusing piece and the Age editorial both make the point that welfare for farmers is pointless over the long term. The problem with the implication of Heathcote above is that many farmers are not bad managers as much as they are uninsurable and unsustainable. Even though giving money to farmers to keep them on the land degrades the land further and wastes money, it is a problem that - often - the State and Federal governments created, then reinforced repeatedly.

But if things are going to change, you have to start somewhere. Acknowledging that drought is inevitable and common is an important start.

In the same week comes news that the same message hasn't percolated through to urban water consumers either. This is something I've argued before when questioning the governments claimed water savings. To summarise, there are two things stopping people from using more water: restrictions on use and fines for ignoring them; and enough rain that people's gardens aren't dying. Until people stop expecting a green garden in a drought water use will continue to cycle upwards, the same as it always has.

In response to the last article I wrote about this, Robert pointed out that people would probably be quite happy to pay the costs of de-salinification plants and grey-water systems if it meant keeping their gardens. I think he is right, but this also means the water authorities should start charging for projected infrastructure needs. As it stands they plan to keep the demand within the current supply limitations. An attitude, which while admirable, is going to cause a lot of angst when people realise what it means for their backyards.

It has been called a 'coming crisis'. My quarterly water bill is only $20. If and when it is a crisis it will be a manufactured one. The lesson of the farmers above is an important warning for what is at stake.

Sterner Matters 29th May, 2005 03:26:49   [#]