Financial aid for drought-stricken Australian farmers will be increased to A$1.8 billion (US$1.3 billion) as they endure the driest conditions in half a century, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said yesterday.
Farmers in eastern states are struggling with extreme aridity that has turned green pastures into dust, with the economies of local towns also suffering.
“I want to say to our farmers, we have your back. There is no set-and-forget,” Turnbull told reporters in the New South Wales town of Forbes.
Livestock farmers in Forbes, about 390km west of Sydney, are among those battling the lack of rain.
“We are constantly working to ensure that you get every support you can, and of course let’s all pray for rain,” Turnbull said.
While droughts are not uncommon in Australia, the length and severity of the dry conditions have depleted farmers’ food stocks.
With grass unable to grow, some farmers have had to hand-feed their cattle and sheep, sell off stock to keep going, or even shoot their animals as they do not want them to suffer or cannot afford to feed them.
Canberra has already offered A$576 million in assistance in recent weeks, with yesterday’s announcement taking the total to A$1.8 billion.
The extra funds will include doubling the number of low-interest concessional loans for farmers, who will not have to make any principal repayments for the first five years.
Councils in the drought-affected states of New South Wales, Queensland and parts of Victoria will be given money to boost local facilities, with further funding set aside for water infrastructure.
Recently retired senior military officer Major General Stephen Day was appointed national drought coordinator to help farmers and other organizations determine where support is most needed.
There has been an outpouring of support from other parts of the vast continent.
A convoy of 23 trucks carrying 2,300 bales of hay for more than 200 farmers on Friday arrived in New South Wales from Western Australia more than 3,500km away.
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