Monday, April 23, 2007

Australia's 'Mega-Drought' To Cripple Local Food Supply

"Pray For Rain," Says Desperate Howard

Priest Says Praying For Rain Is Pointless

How bad is the Australian drought? Bad enough for it to be called a mega-drought. And bad enough for the prime minister, John Howard, to urge Australians to, literally, "pray for rain".

The Murray-Darling river system is only weeks away from drying up enough to force the prime minister to take action that will cut off fresh water flows to irrigators in Victoria's farmlands, known as "Australia's food bowl". Farmers and irrigators are claiming such action will result in the loss of more than 40% of Australia's fresh fruit and vegetables supply in the coming years, and will see Australia forced to relax its extremely strict quarantine measures to allow imports of foreign fresh food.

We're already hearing that we may soon be forced to pay four or five times what we currently do for some fruit and vegetables. The fast food chains must be clapping their hands in delight. How many young working families with shocking mortgage payments and crippling credit debts will pay absurd prices for the ingredients to make fresh, homemade salads when a fast food "dinner" will be substantially less?

Basically, if most of the catchment areas for the Murray-Darling Basin do not get virtually unprecedented rainfalls in the next two months, Australia's food bowl crop lands will get most of their water supplies cut off, to ensure urban areas get enough drinking water instead.

And "unprecedented rainfalls" mean months worth of rain, steady and continual. Nobody really believes that is going to happen, except the most optimistic of long-range weather forecasters.

Good thing the Howard government hasn't been ignoring its own chief scientists, and trying to silence them all, on the reality of the mega-drought and climate change for the past ten years, or Australians really might be in some serious trouble :

Zero water allocations in the Murray-Darling Basin would threaten crops such as citrus, stone fruit and grapes, some of which may take years to recover from a year without water.

New Zealand farmers said they were sympathetic to their Australian counterparts' plight and stood ready to help. But they said Australia must stop using its quarantine rules as a trade barrier.

A day after warning that all irrigation allocations could be suspended without heavy rains in the next two months, the Prime Minister said there might be a need to ship more food from overseas.

"Obviously it might be possible in some areas to import the foodstuffs that would otherwise come from Australian sources," Mr Howard said.

"Now we hope that doesn't happen, because we always like to see ourselves as being capable of meeting our own food needs and, in fact, providing for the food needs of others.

"But it's a question of rain and we must all hope and pray that over the next six to eight weeks it rains, it rains heavily, it rains in all the right areas, (and) there's plenty of run-off into the catchments."

Here's another example of how John Howard told Australians to get down on their knees, raise their hands to the heavens, and start praying for rain :
...he encouraged people to seek divine intervention.

"It's very serious, it's unprecedented in my lifetime and I really feel very deeply for the people affected,'' Mr Howard told ABC Television.

"So we should all, literally and without any irony, pray for rain over the next six to eight weeks.''
But Father Bob Maguire, an hilariously honest and straightforward priest from South Melbourne, who exemplifies everything a true Christian should be, said praying for rain was pointless, and a waste of time. He urged, instead, that some real, significant action be taken instead :
Bob Maguire says church leaders across Australia can pray for rain "until they go black in the face" but it won't solve the water crisis.

"Maybe our prayers need a creative spin, like 'O God, please turn this wine into water'," the Catholic priest said.

"Now I know a lot of people won't like it, particularly if people are making their prayers over a nice bottle of Grange, but this water problem is bigger than all of us boys and girls down here on ground level."

"Praying for rain is great and we will be doing it in our services, but we have to be prepared to work on finding solutions to the problem ourselves," he said.

The UK Independent devoted its front page and multiple pages inside a recent edition to spelling out the true scale of the disaster facing Australia, and it pushed the line (or lie) that the mega-drought was the first and most prominent example of a major country facing ruin due to the effects of severe climate change :
...its mighty rivers have shrivelled to sluggish brown streams. With paddocks reduced to dust bowls, graziers have been forced to sell off sheep and cows at rock-bottom prices or buy in feed at great expense. Some have already given up, abandoning pastoral properties that have been in their families for generations. The rural suicide rate has soared.

Mr Howard acknowledged that the measures are drastic. He said the prolonged dry spell was "unprecedentedly dangerous" for farmers, and for the economy as a whole. Releasing a new report on the state of the Murray and Darling, Mr Howard said: "It is a grim situation, and there is no point in pretending to Australia otherwise. We must all hope and pray there is rain."

But prayer may not suffice, and many people are asking why crippling water shortages in the world's driest inhabited continent are only now being addressed with any sense of urgency.

Until a few months ago, Mr Howard and his ministers pooh-poohed the climate-change doomsayers. The Prime Minister refused to meet Al Gore when he visited Australia to promote his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. He was lukewarm about the landmark report by the British economist Sir Nicholas Stern, which warned that large swaths of Australia's farming land would become unproductive if global temperatures rose by an average of four degrees.

Faced with criticism from even conservative sections of the media, Mr Howard realised that he had misread the public mood - grave faux pas in an election year. Last month's report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted more frequent and intense bushfires, tropical cyclones, and catastrophic damage to the Great Barrier Reef. The report also said there would be up to 20 per cent more droughts by 2030. And it said the annual flow in the Murray-Darling basin was likely to fall by 10-25 per cent by 2050. The basin, the size of France and Spain combined, provides 85 per cent of the water used nationally for irrigation.

Mr Howard has softened his rhetoric of late, and says that he now broadly accepts the science behind climate change. He has tried to regain the political initiative, announcing measures including a plan to take over regulatory control of the Murray-Darling river system from state governments.

British Media Hammer Howard For Refusing To Sign Kyoto, Blame Mega-Drought On Climate Change