Australia ramps up aid to farmers as drought bites

Financial aid for drought-stricken Australian farmers will be increased to Aus $1.8 billion as they endure the driest conditions in half a century, the Prime Minister said on Sunday. Farmers in eastern states are struggling with extreme aridity that has turned green pastures into dust, with the economies of local towns also suffering. “I want to say to our farmers, we have your back. There is no set-and-forget,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in the New South Wales town of Forbes. Grazers in Forbes, some 390 km west of Sydney, are among those battling the lack of rain. “We are constantly working to ensure that you get every support you can, and of course let’s all pray for rain,” Mr. Turnbull added. While droughts are not uncommon in Australia, the length and severity of the dry conditions have depleted farmers’ food stocks. With grass unable to grow, some grazers have had to hand-feed their cattle and sheep, sell off stock to keep going, or even shoot their animals as they do not want them to suffer or cannot afford to feed them. Canberra has already offered Aus$576 million in assistance in recent weeks, with Sunday’s announcement taking the total to Aus$1.8 billion. The extra funds will include doubling the number of low-interest concessional loans for farmers, who will not have to make any principal repayments for the first five years.

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