WA councils seek urgent drought assistance

By Angela Dorizas

Local communities in Western Australia have appealed for urgent government assistant as they face severe drought conditions.

The WA Local Government Association (WALGA) has called on the State Government to issue a ‘declaration of water deficiency’ for regions in severe drought and provide urgent assistance to deal with the financial, social and psychological impacts upon communities.

WALGA president Troy Pickard said the Federal Government was working towards drought reform measures, but for many communities such assistance would arrive too late.

“Our initial focus at the moment is the pending dry season,” he told Government News.

Cr Pickard said the drought was putting farmers under significant financial strain and the consequential psychological impacts were of “grave concern for local government”.

He said councils in the Wheatbelt were particularly concerned about the impacts of drought.

“These WA communities require immediate assistance to save, or in some cases, exit their farms,” Cr Pickard said.

The state’s grain handler has downgraded this season’s crop yields to 5.9 million tonnes.

The general manager of operations at Co-operative Bulk Handling, Colin Tutt, said it would be the state’s second smallest crop in the last 20 years.

“Given the dry conditions this season, we've continued to downgrade the estimate in the lead up to harvest with the current forecast for this season's total crop being 5.9 million tonnes,” he said.

“Our five year harvest average is 10 million tonnes. At this stage we're looking at taking in just over half this average and we are well behind last season's 11.3 million tonne crop.”

Through membership on the Dry Season Advisory Committee, WALGA appealed to the Minister for Water to issue a declaration of water deficiency for severely affected regions and facilitate the placement of large water tanks at standpipes and emergency cartage or water.

“I am confident that the State Government will see that it is a severe problem and there are many communities facing financial ruin,” Cr Pickard said.

WALGA also called for the reinstatement of the Dry Season Assistance Scheme’s Community and Social Support Services Grants to fund social infrastructure and community events throughout the dry season.

Cr Pickard said councils were actively involved in providing drought assistance through implementing state and federal programs, deferring rates and organising social activities to bring communities a “sense of hope”.

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