Australia faces worse, more frequent droughts: study

PERTH Mon Jul 7, 2008 12:38am EDT

Grains farmer John Ridley looks at his failed wheat crop on his farm near the town of West Wyalong October 16, 2007. Australia could experience more severe droughts and they could become more frequent in the future because of climate change, a government-commissioned report said on Sunday. REUTERS/Mick Tsikas

Grains farmer John Ridley looks at his failed wheat crop on his farm near the town of West Wyalong October 16, 2007. Australia could experience more severe droughts and they could become more frequent in the future because of climate change, a government-commissioned report said on Sunday.

Credit: Reuters/Mick Tsikas

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PERTH (Reuters) - Australia could experience more severe droughts and they could become more frequent in the future because of climate change, a government-commissioned report said on Sunday.

Droughts could hit the country twice as often as now, cover an area twice as big and be more severe in key agricultural production areas, the Bureau of Meteorology and Australia's top science organization, the CSIRO, said in a joint report.

The study also found that temperatures currently defined as "exceptional" were likely to occur, on average, once in every two years in many key agricultural production areas within the next 20 to 30 years, while spells of low rainfall would almost double in frequency from current figures.

Australia, suffering its worst drought in 100 years, has seen its wheat exports tumble in the past two years.

The Pacific nation is normally the second-largest wheat exporter in the world, but the harvest has been decimated to just 13 million tonnes last year because of drought.

The report, commissioned by the left-leaning Labor Party government as part of a review of national drought policy, said about 50 percent of the rainfall decrease in south-western Australia since the 1950s was likely due to emissions of greenhouse gases.

It added current policies defining areas eligible for government drought assistance were out-of-date and more areas needed to be included for drought support.

"We've already seen farmers walking off the land and rural communities struggling to stay afloat in the face of widespread stress and depression," Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Tony Burke said in a statement.

"Yet this report suggests this rare event could occur much more often due to climate change. We need to act now to ensure we are better prepared for climate change in the future."

(Reporting by Fayen Wong; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)

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