SYDNEY – Australia will establish a AU$1-billion ($686 million) fund for farmers affected by one of the worst droughts to hit the country in a century, the government said Thursday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement that the money would be distributed through soft loans, which would be interest-free for two years.
“This is money into the pockets of all those farmers and graziers (livestock farmers) who know they have a future, but are currently struggling to keep their operations running as the crippling effects of this drought continue to bite,” Morrison said.
The drought that was declared in August 2018 has especially affected the southeastern state of New South Wales, where agricultural fields have dried up, water reserves have dropped to minuscule levels and livestock and wild animals have died due to thirst.
According to official data, drought has caused economic losses worth AU$5 billion and the loss of 23,000 jobs owing to falling export incomes in Australia, a country vulnerable to extreme temperatures due to climate change.
The federal government also announced the release of 100 gigaliters of water in the Murray River, the largest in Australia that flows 2,500 km (1550 miles).
Murray forms the largest river basin in Australia along with the Darling River, irrigating more than a million square kilometers of land in eastern parts of the country.
The basin has been the center of a national debate about the management of its water and because of the death of more than a million fish due to lack of oxygen.