Drought and the future of rural communities: Drought impacts and adaptation in regional Victoria, Australia

Authors: Anthony S Kiem, Louise E Askew, Meg Sherval, Danielle C. Verdon-Kidd, Craig Clifton, Emma Austin, Pauline M. McGuirk and Helen Berry
Year: 2010

The Big Dry, or Millennium Drought, has affected southeast Australia (SEA) since the mid-1990s. Farmer debt in the Mildura region increased from $15 million in 2000-01 to $275 million in 2007-08. There was an annual average rainfall decrease of 17% for the region of Mildura and 10% for Donald. While similar to previous droughts in terms of annual rainfall deficits, the Big Dry drought was particularly damaging due to a number of coincidental circumstances, including the reliance of places like Mildura on irrigation water from the over-stretched Murray River water source, and the Global Financial Crisis. So far, there has been more failure than success in terms of managing drought in Australia, particularly relating to drought and water policy and ensuring that rural communities receive the support they need. Significant uncertainties currently exist around the climate science and modelling needed to produce the sort of forecasts farmers say they need, and unfortunately, this uncertainty will remain for the forseeable future. Therefore, the more urgent, and more achievable objective should be to robustly quantify this uncertainty, to develop tools to support decision making under uncertainty, and to build resilience (i.e. ability to re-configure without crucial loss) such that rural communities are capable of adapting to the climatic variability. In order to generate effective adaptation strategies to cope with projected increases to the frequency and magnitude of drought events, urgent investigation is required into: (a) why the already documented drought management solutions and priorities generated through previous research projects have not been implemented, (b) determining the barriers that are preventing implementation; and (c) how these barriers can be overcome.

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