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Science
COSTING THE EARTH
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Thursday 21:00-21:30
Costing the Earth tells stories which touch all our lives, looking at man's effect on the environment and at how the environment reacts. It questions accepted truths, challenges the people in charge and reports on progress towards improving the world we live in.
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LISTEN AGAINListen 30 min
Listen to 10 May
PRESENTER
MIRIAM O'REILLY
Miriam O'Reilly
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Thursday 10 May 2007
Perth
Red Gum Tree on the banks of the River Murray

The Battle for the Murray Darling

Australia is in the grip of a five year drought, the worst on record and it shows no sign of abating. Water levels in the Murray Darling Basin, the river system that supplies most of south and eastern Australia, are now so depleted that the major cities fear running out of water.
Unless there is significant rainfall over the next six weeks, Premier John Howard has said he will ban farmers from irrigating their crops for a year. There’s already a plan to manage the country’s water at a federal level, including buying back water licences from farmers. The government’s priority is to provide enough drinking water for people in the cities where 80% of the population live. The scarcity of water is creating tensions between city and country with blame being placed on the large irrigators who traditionally own the rights to use the water in the River Murray for crop production. Many city dwellers, however sympathetic to the plight the farmers now find themselves in, question how a dry country such as Australia can continue to grow thirsty crops such as cotton and rice.
Farmers in turn fear they’ll lose their livelihoods and that rural communities along the Murray Darling Basin will be devastated. For some there is a sense that they are being made to suffer for the sake of city dwellers being able to water their gardens. Environmentalists say that overabstraction and failure to put any water back into the environment over the years have led to the desperate state the river system is currently in, and that Australia’s European settlers should have paid more attention to the practices of the aboriginal peoples and how they managed the land and water.
The Big Dry has put the environment high on the country’s agenda and there’s a dawning awareness that this may be no ordinary drought but a sign of climate change.
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