Approaching cyclonic storm east of the Serpentine Lakes, Great Victoria Desert, on the border of South Australia and Western Australia. Image courtesy of CSIRO Land and Water.
Australia is the driest inhabited continent. As a consequence, water is a very precious resource to Australians. As well as having an unpredictable and varied rainfall pattern, Australia often experiences serious droughts.
A drought is an unusually long period of time when there is not enough water for people to use in the way they normally would. There have been many serious droughts in Australia in the last 200 years. The 1895-1903 drought lasted eight years and caused the death of half of Australia's sheep and forty per cent of its cattle. The 1963-68 drought caused a forty per cent reduction in wheat crops across Australia. In central Australia that same drought actually lasted eight years, from 1958 to 1967.
Generally speaking, for every ten years in Australia there are three years during which water supply is good, and three years during which water supply is bad. Drought affects farming practices and can pose long-term threats to the environment. Droughts affect the sustainability of agriculture, threaten the life cycles of plants and animals, increase the chance that toxic algae outbreaks will happen, and also increase the chance of dust-storms and bushfires.
In times of drought, water restrictions are put in place. These restrictions place limits on the amount of water that people can use. In farming areas, restrictions limit the amount of water farmers can use to water their crops or give to their stock to drink, as well as how much water they can use for their own personal needs. In urban areas, restrictions limit the way that people use water for showering and baths, for watering their gardens, and even for washing their cars.