Response to disastrous drought is building

IN THE worst of times in Australia, there’s one thing you can count on – the best of human nature. Whether it’s bushfire, flood or earthquake, the response to a natural disaster is swift and substantial.

We saw it after the horrific Black Saturday bushfires in 2009, when the Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund received about $400 million in donations to help people and communities get back on their feet.

We saw it after the Queensland floods of 2010-11, when a “muddy army” came from that state or flew in to help clean up. There’s continuous media coverage, politicians fly in and fly out, the emergency services hit the ground and get to work.

But as far as natural disasters go, drought tends to fly under the radar. It’s far more insidious. Creeping across the land, it affects different people at different times, rather than one single catastrophic and localised event.

It’s also possibly harder to empathise with. Even someone living in a studio apartment in the Sydney CBD can relate to the devastation of having a freak earthquake, fire or flood destroy their home and way of life. But a lack of rain? Many might see that as simply great weather for the beach.

Nevertheless, this drought – which some have called the worst in 30, 40, 50 years – has elicited its own kind of response. So far we’ve heard of donations of hay and other livestock feed and nutrition essentials.

We’ve heard of a church group starting a toiletries drive, of businesses collecting non-perishables, even a school holding a rain dance for a gold-coin donation along with its food drive. The Cowra Guardian has been collecting non-perishable food and toiletries as a part of the Doing It For Our Farmers Toiletries Drive.

Social media has come to the fore, with people flocking to One Day Closer to Rain – a Facebook page created by a Merriwa woman on a cattle property – to offer moral support and whatever they can pitch in from wherever they are.

People have offered free agistment, help with feeding or fencing, even to wash the school uniforms of rural students attending boarding school.

One might say the response is in keeping with the disaster, starting slowly and gathering pace across the country, involving more and more people. But it looks like the response will also need to be – again, like drought – sustained and far-reaching.

Keep up the good work.