Australia: Queensland floods kill half a million drought-stressed cattle

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Acclimatise

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

After a long-lasting drought, Queensland, Australia, has been hit by extreme rain reaching up to 1.4 metres in some areas – twice the amount that falls in London in a year. What started as a sigh of relief in drought-stricken communities quickly turned into floods that destroyed homes, infrastructure and left an estimated 500,000 cattle dead.

Michael Guerin, CEO of AgForce, a peak organisation representing Queensland’s rural producers, said there was no doubt this was a disaster of unprecedented proportions that will take the industry decades to recover calling it a massive humanitarian crisis. “The speed and intensity of the unfolding tragedy makes it hard to believe that it’s just a week since farmers’ elation at receiving the first decent rains in five years turned to horror at the devastating and unprecedented flood that quickly followed,” he added.

Rachael Anderson, a farmer in western Queensland lost 2,000 cattle, about half of her livestock. The losses have put her business under severe financial stress, not sure how she will be able to make repayments to her bank in six months. She added, “we can’t get loans because we’ve got nothing to borrow against, none of us have got anything left. I’m not going to lie, it will finish some people up, but others will be rebuilding.” In the meantime, the rotting bodies of dead livestock and stagnant floodwaters are creating an unbearable stench, but they are also polluting the creek Anderson’s station was using as water supply to wash clothes and brush teeth.

The crippling livestock losses come after more than five years of debilitating drought. Now, whole rural communities are fighting to survive as farmers are left with nothing but debt. Guerin implored governments to make sure these communities get long-term support to recover from these recent shocks including bringing in specialist well-being professionals.

Scott Morrisson, Australian prime minister, confirmed the federal government would provide an immediate in-kind payment of AUS$1 million to affected shires. As of 11 February, insurers had received over 13,500 claims from Townsville, Queensland, alone; the estimated losses are about AUS$165 million.

After the record-setting blistering temperatures of January 2019, bushfires that tore through 200,000 hectares in Tasmania, these extreme floods are just another frightening signal of what climate change is doing to the continent. As Adam Morton and Ben Smee write in The Guardian, Australia is “no stranger to extreme weather – bushfire, flooding, rains and skin-peeling heat are central to its history and mythology – but the contrasts this southern summer have been particularly stark.”

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