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Worst Drought In Memory Grips South-East Australia


The remaining cattle on farmer May McKeown's drought-affected property, located on the outskirts of the northwestern New South Wales town of Walgett in Australia, eat hay, July 20, 2018.

Farmers in eastern Australia say they are in the grip of the worst drought in memory. Some landholders have not seen decent rain for seven years and the government is promising more help to hard-pressed communities. In New South Wales state, about 99 per cent of farmers are dealing with drought conditions and are not producing enough food to feed their animals.

Australia is a land well used to nature's extremes. It is the world's driest inhabited continent but the resilience and ingenuity of its farming communities are being severely tested.

South-eastern Australia is in the grip of a drought worse than many can remember. Last month was the second-hottest July on record, and the driest since 2002.

Most of the nation's most populous state, New South Wales, is in drought. In some parched areas, storms of dust have forced children to wear protective masks on farms.

In the small town of Manilla, 460 kilometers north of Sydney, high school students Steve and Olivia said the conditions can be tough.

Olivia: "We wear dust masks in the yard and everything - in the cattle yard because it just turns it into powder."

Steve: "Yes, it is just powdery. You cannot breath."

Olivia: "You get it in your lungs and everything, yeah, and we have noticed our horses starting to get a little bit crook (sick), like their breathing [is] difficult because of the dust."

And 11-year old schoolgirl, Isobel, said her farming family is struggling to cope as livestock prices fall and the cost of grain to feed animals goes up.

"We have pretty much been running out of money every fortnight, and there is no water.There is not really much feed," she said.

The principal of the Manilla Central School is Michael Windred. He said the drought is having a significant psychological effect.

"There is a fair bit of hardship going on.It is not until you really look back and think, okay, there has been a real increase in students seeing the counselor. There has been a bit more [of an] increase of, you know, it is that feeling of bit of despair, if you like."

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has promised to do more to help those under intense financial pressure due to the drought. He has approved emergency "special" payments for eligible farmers, as well as extra funding for mental health services.

The so-called Big Dry' is not affecting all regions of the country. In July, parts of Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Queensland and most of the island state of Tasmania received above average rainfall.

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