The Australian government has announced an aid package of millions for farmers struggling amid a prolonged dry spell. Meteorologists say the already devastating drought could worsen further in the coming months.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Sunday announced a A$190 million (€121 million, $140.6 million) aid package for farmers battling dry conditions in what the government called "one of the worst droughts of the past century."
"You put the food on our tables, the fiber that goes on our backs, and we have your back," he told reporters at a farm in the eastern state of New South Wales (NSW), 99 percent of which is officially in drought.
He described the situation of some farmers as "shocking," "diabolical" and "tragic."
Mental health problems
Some 20,000 farming households will be eligible for lump payments of A$12,000 under the assistance scheme. Farmers whose incomes have been cut drastically by the drought conditions can already receive some A$16,000 a year in unemployment benefits.
The package will also include extra funding for mental health initiatives, with Australian farmers being at a significantly higher risk of depression and suicide than urban dwellers.
In all, the Australian government will now have provided some A$576 million in drought relief. The NSW government has also given more than A$1 billion in assistance.
Climate change consequences
The opposition Labor party has criticized the aid as long overdue and said the government should also be focusing more on climate change and its consequences to find ways of coping with droughts in the long term.
Several fundraising campaigns have sprung up around the country to try and help farmers buy food for their livestock.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has forecast still drier conditions and says there is no end in sight to the drought.
tj/jlw (dpa, Reuters)