Others, such as the drought of 1982±83, can affectmore than half of the country. Droughts can beshort and intense, such as the drought that lastedfrom 1 April 1982 to 28 February 1983; or they canbe long lived, such as the drought from 1 March1991 to 31 December 1995.
When drought comes to Australia, agriculturesuffers first and most severely Ð and eventuallyeveryone feels the impact.
Economic impactsDrought affects farmers through a decline in, ora loss of, the production of crops and livestock.
This in turn affects the level of economic activityin rural towns and even large cities. The droughtof 1963±68 affected large parts of the continentand was the longest drought ever in arid centralAustralia. The last two years of this drought sawa 40 per cent decrease in the wheat harvest, theloss of 20 million sheep and a decrease in farmincome of around $500 million.
The drought of 1991±95, one of the most severedroughts of the twentieth century over northeasternAustralia, resulted in total economiclosses estimated in excess of $5 billion. Even bigcities such as Sydney and Melbourne are forced toimplement water restrictions when they areaffected by droughts. Sydney stores more waterthan any other city of comparable size in theworld because it is frequently affected by drought.
Social impactsThe greatest social impact is the loss of income.
This loss affects not only the farmers, but alsocommunities. In rural towns, for example, jobsmay be lost and businesses may fail. People maybe forced to leave drought-affected areas insearch of other work. Many never return. Prolongeddrought and the heartbreak associatedwith it can result in the breakup of families andsevere depression in individuals.
Environmental impactsDroughts have a large impact on topsoil inAustralia. During drought conditions, millions oftonnes of topsoil are blown away. This loss takesmany years to replace naturally, if it is everreplaced. This loss of topsoil can result in largeareas that are far less productive. Many cropcultivation methods in Australia are not suitablein a country that is often affected by drought.
Prolonged droughts are usually associated withthe outbreak of serious bushfires. These bush-fires can have severe environmental impacts,even though much natural vegetation can benefitfrom fires.
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