Australian drought over: Official forecaster | india | Hindustan Times
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Australian drought over: Official forecaster

Australia's official agricultural forecaster on Tuesday declared an end to the worst drought in the country's recorded history, predicting that upcoming harvests would more than double.

india Updated: Jun 10, 2003 10:52 IST
PTI

Australia's official agricultural forecaster on Tuesday declared an end to the worst drought in the country's recorded history, predicting that upcoming harvests would more than double.

Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) executive director Brian Fisher said although some areas of the country remained parched, the so-called 'Big Dry' looked to have ended.

"While it appears that one of the worst droughts in recent times is over, some winter grain growing areas are still waiting for sufficient moisture," he said.

The drought has devastated Australia's rural sector, costing an estimated five billion Australian dollars (3.25 billion US dollars) in agricultural exports and reducing harvests to a 20-year low.

It is also estimated to have slashed 0.75 percentage points from overall economic growth in the 2002-03 financial year.

ABARE said that with sufficient rains, the upcoming 2003/04 winter harvest would reach 33.6 million tonnes,up 120 per cent on last year's drought-reduced 15.3 million tonnes.

Wheat was predicted to rise 130 percent to 21.7 million tonnes, barley 100 percent to 6.7 million tonnes and canola 117 percent to 1.3 million tonnes.

The forecasts, however, were still down on predictions of a bumper crop made by ABARE in March, demonstrating the lingering impact of drought on the rural sector.

Most rains have so far fallen on coastal areas of Australia's southern states but other areas of the country remain desperate for water.

Grains Council of Australia president Keith Prerrett said ABARE's declaration that the drought is over is premature.

"It's a big call," he said. "I'd say we're teetering on a knife-edge. In Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria the next three to four weeks will be critical."

The drought is in its third year in some inland areas. At its height, water restrictions were imposed on Australia's major cities and huge dust clouds of displaced top-soil visible from space rolled across the outback.

Some of the largest bushfires seen in Australia were also fuelled by drought-parched undergrowth.

Meterorologists blamed the worst drought since European settlement in 1788 on the El Nino weather pattern, where dry winds are caused by high sea temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean.

Even if it has ended, analysts warn the drought will continue to drag on the Australian economy over the next 12 months.

ABARE has said a lack of irrigation water is likely to affect crops over the southern hemisphere summer, while the impact on exports pushed Australia's trade into a record deficit of 3.13 billion dollars in April, exacerbating problems caused by a flat world economy.