Drought is not just loss of one crop or two. It could be far worse. Irrigation communities face a lot of social challenges due to drought, including bankruptcy, marital conflict, health issues and more, it has been found.
A team at Monash University researchers have released their long awaited report on the social impacts of declining water availability and ongoing drought in the Murray-Darling Basin.
Produced by Professor Margaret Alston, Dr Kerri Whittenbury and Ms Alexandra Haynes from the Gender, Leadership and Social Sustainability (GLASS) Research Unit, the report outlines research undertaken through focus group sessions and in-depth interviews with people in three key irrigation communities in northern Victoria and southern New South Wales.
Head of GLASS, Professor Margaret Alston said the release of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority's Guide has been met with anger in many irrigation communities and the research highlights the significant social challenges facing communities in the region caused by drought and water allocation changes.
"The proposed changes outlined in the Guide will further exacerbate these changes unless significant attention is given by government to the likely social impacts," Professor Alston said.
"Our research indicates high levels of bankruptcy, marital conflict, health issues, stress and isolation.
"The research also highlights variances in issues raised by women and men. Women are more likely to note a lack of services such as child care and aged care and an increased need to find work off the farm to provide family income. Men are more likely to be concerned with lost production, increased social isolation and mental health and welfare issues," Professor Alston said.
The report also included an analysis of the impacts of government water policy, with respondents in the study noting they feel abandoned by governments. Interviewees believe water policy prioritises the environment over social issues.
"There was also strong views that irrigators were 'forced' sellers of water rather than 'willing' sellers and that this results from the financial pressures associated with reduced and often negative income," Professor Alston said.
The report made a number of recommendations including an explicit focus on regional and community planning in water policy development and that the anticipated regional and community level impacts of water policy are identified and monitored during, and after, policy implementation.
Professor Alston said the release of the Guide has been controversial and many community members have warned of increased hardships as a result of its implementation.
The report also recommended both Commonwealth and State Governments place equal emphasis on environmental and social consideration at an individual, family, community and regional level.