Atmosphere Theme Report
Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Lead Author: Dr Peter Manins, Environmental Consulting and Research Unit, CSIRO Atmospheric Research, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06746 9
Climate Variability and Change (continued)
Drought related impacts [A Indicator 1.14]
The extent and intensity of droughts associated with El Nio events vary (Figure 43). Major Australian droughts in the 20th century occurred in 1864-66, 1880-86, 1895-1903, 1911-16, 1918-20, 1939-45, 1963-68, 1972-73, 1982-83 and 1991-95. The drought during the first half of the 1990s that particularly affected Queensland and northern New South Wales and some parts of Northern Territory and north-west Australia (Figure 44) coincided with the protracted El Nio event (Figure 36).
Figure 43: Major Australian droughts and some examples of spatial variations in the intensity of El Nio induced droughts.
Major droughts associated with El Nio events in the 1860s to 1990s are also shown at the bottom of this figure.
Figure 44: The effect of drought in the first half of the 1990s as measured by serious rainfall deficiencies (rainfall lower than the 5th percentile).
In the second half of the 1990s, drought hit south-east Australia, particularly Victoria, Tasmania and some parts of central Australia (Figure 45). Although the 1997 to 1998 El Nio was characterised by the largest negative index value in the 20th century, its effect on the Australian climate was much less than for many previous events. Drought frequency is a crucial factor in the Australian environment. Long historical rainfall records can give a clearer picture of what are 'normal' conditions for an area, and how much variation might be expected.
Figure 45: The effect of drought in the second half of the 1990s as measured by serious rainfall deficiencies (rainfall lower than the 5th percentile).
The main effect of drought is on agriculture and certain industrial sectors. Drought affects agriculture, including sugar cane, pasture growth and cattle production in tropical Australia and cereals and fruit cultivation in southern Australia. Given the size of Australia, droughts may be ending in one part of a State and at the same time beginning in another part of the same State. Droughts may last for one season or extend over several.
The cost of drought to government occurs mainly through payments, subsidies to agricultural and industrial sectors and farm family restart schemes. However, this is only one part of the overall cost to individuals, businesses and communities. A brief description of the National Drought Policy is given earlier. The Drought Relief Payment (renamed the Exceptional Circumstance Relief Payment), commenced in September 1994. Droughts also result in reduced income for government from fewer exports and lower tax receipts from primary production. Table 6 shows the expenditure by State for drought relief payments from 1992 to 1999. The Exceptional Circumstance Relief Payment is relatively greater in southern-central Queensland and New South Wales where it exceeds the top 80% of total payments nationwide. The area of high Exceptional Circumstance Relief Payment in Queensland is associated with serious rainfall deficiencies shown in Figure 44. However, New South Wales regions that received higher payments are most clearly related to areas of rainfall deficiencies of less than the 10th percentile.
|EC interest rate subsidies||10.2||15.6||33.4||32.0||23.7||12.4||7.2||134.5|
|EC interest rate subsidies||7.5||11.5||29.2||34.8||24.9||7.8||3.0||118.7|
|EC interest rate subsidies||0.1||2.7||0.4||1.0||0.0||2.2||2.4||8.8|
|EC interest rate subsidies||3.4||9.6||0.8||0.6||0.3||0.0||0.0||14.7|
|EC interest rate subsidies||0.0||0.7||0.9||1.0||0.6||0.0||0.2||3.4|
|EC interest rate subsidies||0.0||2.1||0.5||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||2.6|
|EC interest rate subsidies||21.2||42.2||65.2||69.4||49.5||22.4||12.8||282.7|
A The Drought Relief Payment (DRP), which was subsequently renamed the Exceptional Circumstance Relief Payment (ECRP), commencing in September 1994. Expenditure on ECRP interest rate subsidies shown in this table reflects the Commonwealth contribution only. The Commonwealth pays 90% of the cost of interest subsidies of up to 50% of a farmer's total interest expenditure and 50% of interest subsidies above this level.
Source: Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests of Australia.
Changing frequencies of drought and fire associated with higher temperatures could have increasing effects on agriculture, forestry and biodiversity. Considerable changes in management practices may be required to minimise cost, maximise benefits and ensure sustainability.