Written by Dániela Sagini
Dániela Sagini is a Climate Change Program Manager at the Ocean Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, who is also studying why Australia is suffering from extreme droughts, flooding and fires. For over a decade, she has documented climate impacts on the country’s wildlife, ecosystems and people. Her latest book, “Pig Wild: Climate Change, the Australian Landscape, and Animals in Peril,” is published by Virago.
Australia has had five years of record-breaking drought that have dented its economy, threatened tens of thousands of farming jobs and wreaked havoc on its national food supply.
The dry spell has been the country’s longest and driest in recorded history. Instead of an ever-increasing blue sky and endless swells of wave-colored water, the country is now immersed in the hottest, driest conditions since records began in 1910.
The grimmest of predictions predict a small portion of Queensland and northern New South Wales will remain land-locked for at least a decade — a new record for dry — as the dry weather continues in Southern Australia for at least another two decades.
Life in droughtland
To a layman, it is the Australian equivalent of life in a drought-stricken Syrian village in 2016, when $4 billion worth of crops were destroyed, in its starkest form, by lack of water and inconsistent rainfall.
It is a situation like that, tragically, occurring across the continent on a nightly basis, as more and more Australians call these dry spells the worst that they have ever seen.
The persistence of the drought is brought to us by a drought from which there seems no immediate solution — climate change and high temperatures aren’t helping.
Australia is even more at risk than most people realize. Although its climate has always been exceptional, it is not unusual to go through five years without rainfall. While record-breaking droughts do happen every few decades, the full scale of the crisis is as yet unforeseeable.
Under rising temperatures, the risk of more frequent and intense extreme weather events has shot up. Australia has seen heatwaves with average annual temperatures of more than 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and drought as severe as the one in 2010 and 2012.
The current parched conditions are not just worrying for farmers, but also for the nation’s animals and communities as a whole.
More than a third of Australian mammals, such as rabbits, finches and kangaroos, are now officially considered as “climate change refugees.”
Without sufficient food and water for their growing populations, they may have to migrate elsewhere. What could be the next potential port of call is in Africa and Africa’s savannahs, where, as in many places around the world, these semi-aquatic mammals may have greater room for adaptation.
Wild life is also dealing with a massive increase in wildfires, which have killed thousands of people and driven large tracts of Australia into the black, or “fire-engines.”