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Helping farmers in distress doesn’t help them be the best: the drought relief dilemma

Neal Hughes and Steve Hatfield-Dodds write in The Conversation (23.10.18) that, in the midst of an ongoing drought crisis in rural Australia, governments need to make sure that well-meaning policy responses to drought don’t do more harm than good.

‘Two years ago we were celebrating just about the best year for farmers ever. Now many farmers – particularly in New South Wales and southern Queensland – are in the grip of drought.

‘It underlines just how variable the Australian climate can be.

‘While attention is focused on responding to the current situation, it is important to also think long-term. In our rush to help, we need to make sure well-meaning responses don’t do more harm than good.

‘The recent drought has stimulated much empathy for farmers from the media, governments and the public. Federal and state governments have committed hundreds of millions of dollars in farmer support. Private citizens and companies have also given generously to the cause.

‘While there appears to be overwhelming public support for helping farmers through drought, concerns have been raised by economists as well as farmer representatives – including both the former and current head of the National Farmers’ Federation.

‘A central concern is that drought support could undermine farmer preparedness for future droughts and longer-term adaptation to climate change.’

Farmers experiencing drought-related stress need targeted support

Emma Austin and colleagues write in The Conversation (30.7.18) that, where farmers experience drought-related stress, drought support must address relationships between drought and mental health.

‘For farmers, drought is a major source of stress. Their livelihoods and communities depend on the weather. To better support farmers and their families we need to better understand the impact of drought on them and their communities.

‘Our research, published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, found young farmers who live and work on farms in isolated areas and are in financial hardship are the most likely to experience personal drought-related psychological stress.

‘Drought impacts are different from “rapid” climate extremes such as bushfires, floods or cyclones. So drought planning and preparedness needs to consider the impacts of drought on mental health and well-being differently to the way in which we prepare for and respond to “rapid” climate extremes.’

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