Australia runs out of water, braces for 'Day Zero'
As climate change continues to escalate globally, over a dozen towns in Australia are nearing Day Zero, the day when the taps run dry. Experts and conservatives agree that the "Sunburnt Country", which has long been battered by droughts and floods, is now facing an intensified crisis due to climate change. The severe drought has hit several eastern Australian towns between Queensland and Sydney.
According to Agence France-Presse, a prolonged drought has shrunk a local dam's levels by several meters in Queensland's Stanthorpe- expected to run dry by Christmas. Ironically, all the towns running dry sit within the Murray-Darling River Basin, Australia's biggest river system. Last December, New South Wales was declared in drought where many reservoirs are at 1% capacity and several towns have already run dry.
Consequently, in Stanthorpe, shops are on the brink of shutting down and water thefts are increasingly becoming more common. The more pertinent issue is that of farmers. The local growers' association believes the drought could hit Stanthorpe's economy by Aus$100 million this season alone. Guyra grazier Gordon Youman told AFP that several farmers are now dealing with mental health issues over fears of penury.
Meanwhile, Stanthorpe resident Tom Hehlen told AFP, "You get the feeling that everyone's on edge because you've got to watch everything you do- you've got to be careful of every little drop you use. That can be very stressful." Youman added, "[Farming is] core of the country, where mum, dad and kids work together, they're the ones that are going to be pulled down."
And, that's not all. Angus Ferrier, another resident of Stanthorpe, uprooted thousands of eight-year-old citrus trees from his orchard as his farm's water supply will only last him weeks. "Eight years of your life, gone in a day," Ferrier said, adding that some growers have decided to temporarily shut their businesses down. Authorities are relying on truck-in water, which costs Aus$1 million, until a fast-tracked Aus$13-million pipeline becomes functional by September-end.
However, at current usage rates, the pipeline's supply will only last a year for Armidale district's 30,000 residents. "We are looking at alternative sources of water, not just that which comes from the sky by way of rain," Armidale Regional Council CEO Susan Law said.
As the days get hotter, the drought gets worse, with precious water supplies being utilized to tackle hundreds of bushfires in the Australian countryside. Even as local authorities are trying to cope with the drought by drilling into groundwater and laying out pipelines, they look towards the government for large-scale aid. However, Australia has prioritized its coal mining and export sector over climate change.
Australia isn't the first country on the brink of Day Zero. Earlier this year, Chennai, India's sixth-largest city, ran dry amid deficit monsoons and ill-planning to cope with drought. South Africa's Cape Town also narrowly escaped Day Zero in 2018 as dam levels dropped to 13.5% capacity after facing severe drought due to scant rainfall. In 2015, Brazil's Sao Paulo also faced a brutal drought.