In drought-stricken eastern Australia, parts of which are facing some of the lowest rainfall in a century, motorists are now undergoing “drought driving” lessons to deal with growing numbers of kangaroos on roads.
The animals have been flocking to the roadside in recent months to forage for patches of green grass or for water collecting in drains, creating a hazard for drivers.
Typically, the rule for avoiding accidents with kangaroos is to avoid swerving and to brake in a straight line. “Out here around Hay, it’s just horrendous, especially in the evening with the amount of wildlife on the roads,” said Ms Sandra Ireson, a co-founder of Hay Inc, a local volunteer organisation in the New South Wales town of Hay, which has given “drought driving” lessons to young farmers.
“We want to encourage them not to swerve and brake. If they do swerve and brake, they will roll the car – that’s how stunt drivers do it,” she told ABC News last month.
The authorities also recommend motorists avoid driving at dawn or dusk and at night, when kangaroos are most likely to be on the roads.
In parts of inland Australia, the drought is proving to be one of the worst on record. The Bureau of Meteorology has reported “serious to severe rainfall deficiencies” in the past 15 months across large swathes of territory in the states of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia. The New South Wales government said 99.7 per cent of the state is in the grip of a drought, including 15.1 per cent facing intense conditions.
The dry spell has had a devastating effect on thousands of the nation’s farmers.
Some are importing feed for their livestock, which can double or triple their costs. Others are selling sheep and cattle – or moving them interstate – because they cannot afford to feed them. Some dairy cattle have been producing as little as 50 per cent of their regular milk output because of their emaciated condition.
A dairy farmer outside Sydney, Mr Gavin Moore, said it was increasingly hard to find feed for his stock as farms across the country were also grappling with drought. “There is nothing. Everyone is dry,” he told Ten Daily website last week. “We have been through droughts before… but this is the worst. It has hit so hard and is so widespread.”
Australia’s farming sector produces about A$60 billion (S$60.4 billion) worth of commodities yearly – the bulk of which is exported – and hires about 300,000 people. The biggest buyers of Australian farm produce are China, the United States, Japan, South Korea and Indonesia. The main exports are beef and veal, wheat, wool, dairy and wine.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull travelled to drought-affected areas last month to visit farmers and discuss possible relief as the government came under fire over its aid efforts.
The government provides up to A$295 a week to help struggling farmers, but the support has been criticised because the application process is onerous.
In addition, some farmers do not qualify as their properties are worth more than the limit of A$2.55 million, even though they have little access to cash and their farms have dropped in value since the drought.
The government late last month extended the support package to allow farmers to access the funds for four years, rather than three. About 35,000 of the nation’s 83,000 farmers are believed to be eligible for the support.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, who has said the government is looking to simplify applications for the payments, has also urged city dwellers to visit rural areas to help generate tourist income.
“I encourage every Australian, if they want to do their bit for farmers and regional and rural communities, get out there,” he told reporters last month.
By: Jonathan Pearlman
Source: The Straits Times