Friday, April 20, 2007

Anyone Thirsty?

Australia is in a water crisis. A couple of weeks ago Level 5 water restrictions were put into place in Southeast Queensland. This means that even activities like bucket watering of gardens is now restrictred. Individuals are expected to limit their water use to 140 litres a day. I am somewhat volumetrically challenged so I am still trying to get my head around how much water this actually is.

Households that exceed the suggested limits for extended periods of time will receive fines. Though these restrictions aren't going to help in the case of the family I met at the laundromat last weekend. This family of four had been warned that they were 5 times over the limit on their water usage. So they opted to wash their 10 loads of laundry at the laundromat so it wouldn't appear on their water metre. It wouldn't be a stretch to believe that the antique machines in use at the laundromat are stacks less efficient than whatever machine they might have at their residence.

This week John Howard announced that if the region surrounding the Murray River, the epicentre of Australia's produce growth, does not receive any rain in the next 40 days the irrigation systems provdiing water for local farmers would be shut off. Should this come to pass it would be a disaster for produce prices. As I've mentioned many times on this blog cyclone Larry caused the price of bananas to increase 600%. The Murray Region provides all the stables of fresh produce. Apples, oranges, pears, carrots, zucchini. The list goes on.

So supply is likely to drastically diminish and produce prices are anticipated to double immediately and continue to rise from there. The question supplementing suppy with imports of course comes quickly to mind. However, Imports of produce are neglibile due to a combination of trade protectionism and quarantine regulations (which I have heard are just a weak ruse for increasing protectionism) I just finished watching a news program where people were quoted that imports of fruit and veg would destroy Australia's agriculture sector and thus the Australian economy overall.

A quick search of the World Bank's development indicators revealed that Australia's agriculture sector contributes a mighty 3% to the Gross Domestic Product. Hardly the lynch pin of this developed economy. As a point of comparison wikipedia informs me that the services sector contributes 68% to the GDP.

So yes it is dire here in Australia. The Queensland government is rapidly building a desalination plant but with warnings that the dams will be empty in less than a year without serious rain, it is unlikely to be completed on time. I think the bigger question is not what is going to happen to the agriculture sector but rather what will happen to the entire nation when the taps completely run dry. A pretty scary prospect. I for one am glad that we hopefully won't be here.

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