New Zealand reels under a drought

March 18, 2013 10:13 PM |

A little over a year ago, New Zealand’s was battling torrential rain and flash floods. And today, it is fighting a crippling drought! A drought was declared in the entire North Island on Friday, 15th of March for the first time in 30 years as farmers in every part of the North Island are facing extremely difficult dry conditions.

Meteorologists and experts tell us that there has been little significant rainfall in the northern and eastern parts of the country since October. Though some rain was forecast in the last few days however the farmers will need much more than that. Parts of the North Island are drier than they have been in 70 years, say reports out of New Zealand. The government has estimated that the drought has already cost the farming community about $820 million in lost exports and it could get worse if there is insufficient rain in the next few weeks. New Zealand's last big drought was five years ago and it cost farmers billions of dollars.

Milk production in New Zealand, the world’s biggest exporter, will therefore continue to slow as the most widespread drought threatens economic growth severely. Hundreds of cows have been slaughtered as the ministry of Beef, Lamb NZ and Dairy NZ are among those providing support to farmers

The North Island requires at least 362mm of rain to get grass growing again. “Three to four days of moderate rain would nurture new seedlings. Besides, the rain has to be moderate and not a sudden downpour. Any deluge will muddy the ground and impede growth”, says climate scientist Jim Salinger said. Previously the highest record rainfall needed was in the summer of 1945-46, when the soil moisture deficit was 361mm.

The hot weather has contributed to a bumper crop of quality tomatoes, which are retailing around $2 a kilo. The winter sports season could be delayed in parts of the North Island due to dry fields, impacting rugby league and football. Insects and birds like the monarch butterfly and kiwi are struggling to find water and food in parts of the country and are facing risk of starvation. Researchers believe long dry spells are expected to double by 2040 as New Zealand is slowly heading towards a Mediterranean climate.

Jatin Singh, CEO of Skymet Weather, says “Extreme weather will become more frequent in the coming years as it has already started to show its signs in India and other countries.”

Drought in India is not only a periodic phenomenon but also a permanent, harsh reality for many rural poor. Studies have shown that droughts in India affect almost 70 percent of the country’s area, making it a drought-prone zone, due to weak and irregular monsoons. Currently, due to the drought situation at Maharashtra in India, the government approved a 1,207 crore drought relief package to help destitute farmers.

Photo by Sandra Mu/Getty.

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