Drought and the Future of Rural Communities: Opportunities and Challenges for Climate Change Adaptation in Regional Victoria, Australia

Anthony S. Kiem, Emma K. Austin

Abstract

Australia’s vulnerability to climate variability and change has been highlighted by the recent drought (i.e. the Big Dry or Millennium Drought), and also recent flooding across much of eastern Australia during 2011 and 2012. There is also the possibility that the frequency, intensity and duration of droughts may increase due to anthropogenic climate change, stressing the need for robust drought adaptation strategies. This study investigates the socio-economic impacts of drought, past and present drought adaptation measures, and the future adaptation strategies required to deal with projected impacts of climate change. The qualitative analysis presented records the actual experiences of drought and other climatic extremes and helps advance knowledge of how best to respond and adapt to such conditions, and how this might vary between different locations, sectors and communities. It was found that more effort is needed to address the changing environment and climate, by shifting from notions of ‘droughtas- crisis’ towards acknowledging the variable availability of water and that multi-year droughts should not be unexpected, and may even become more frequent. Action should also be taken to revalue the farming enterprise as critical to our environmental, economic and cultural well-being and there was also strong consensus that the value of water should be recognised in a more meaningful way (i.e. not just in economic terms). Finally, across the diverse stakeholders involved in the research, one point was consistently reiterated: that ‘it’s not just drought’. Exacerbating the issues of climate impacts on water security and supply is the complexity of the agriculture industry, global economics (in particular global markets and the recent/ongoing global financial crisis), and demographic changes (decreasing and ageing populations) which are currently occurring across most rural communities. The social and economic issues facing rural communities are not just a product of drought or climate change – to understand them as such would underestimate the extent of the problems and inhibit the ability to coordinate the holistic, cross-agency approach needed for successful climate change adaptation in rural communities.

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Dr. Anthony Kiem

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