Effects of Australian drought ripple out
Australia's continuing drought has reached record levels and could leave the national economy hard hit - with global implications - Prime Minister John Howard has said.
Gloomy predictions of near total crop failures have led to wild fluctuations on the global wheat market this week and raised fears of the country's economy buckling under the strain, as agriculture soaks up emergency aid instead of contributing to the national income.
Australia's weather bureau has now said the drought that it is likely to intensify as an incoming El-Nino event brings even drier conditions.
"The implications for our farmers are also enormous. It will cut their income, it will make their life harder, and the implications for the nation are very big indeed," PM John Howard said.
"It's a hammer blow to our farmers. It is very severe, there's going to be a big cut in their income.
"But having said all of that, we've got to try and keep a sense of perspective, it's very tough for people in the bush, it's very tough for country people," he said.
The PM spoke days after the country's first ever audit of water resources found that Australian state authorities were failing to protect surface and ground water.
Australia's severe water crisis builds on at least five dry years, and has led to plans for a water ministry, announced late last month.
The new Office of Water Resources would coordinate water-related activity on a national scale, including the controversial measure of water recycling that some areas have turned to amid protests over teh health implications of what some say is "drinking sewage."
This year's drought has been accompanied by soaring temperatures that have aggravated the effects on agriculture.