Case study: the impact of drought in a developed country - Australia

Records show that a severe drought has occurred in Australia, on average, once in every 18 years. However, between 2002 and 2009, the south-east of Australia experienced its worse drought in 125 years. This was attributed to El Niño, where moist trade winds are reversed, so instead of bringing rainfall to Australia they travelled west towards South America, leaving south-east Australia with a lack of rainfall. Some scientists believe climate change exacerbated this drought by also reducing rainfall.

A photo of New South Wales, Australia
Parched land in New South Wales, Australia

The region most affected was the Murray-Darling River Basin in New South Wales. This area usually provides 75% of Australia's water, 40% of Australia's agricultural produce and is home to nearly 2 million people.

The drought had severe agricultural impacts:

  • Significant loss of livestock and crops. Some farmers had to sell machinery or land, or even move elsewhere, thereby losing their livelihood.
  • With fewer crops and livestock, Australia had to import more food. This increased the price of food for the whole country.
  • Droughts degraded the quality of the soil affecting farming for years to come.

The drought also affected the natural ecosystem:

  • Wildfires caused by drought destroyed vegetation and animal habitats.
  • Creeks and rivers dried up causing the organisms relying on them to die or migrate.
  • Increased soil erosion destroyed vegetation and the creatures that rely on it to survive.
Electromagnetic imaging is helping some farmers survive by finding new hidden water stores beneath the fields.