Many farmers in drought-affected areas of New South Wales are celebrating recent rain, but more is needed to break the drought, according to Salvation Army rural chaplain Dianne Lawson.
“It’s a positive start. This rain has filled a lot of on-farm dams and some of the rivers have started to flow that haven’t flowed for a while, but it’s certainly not drought-breaking,” she said.
“Spirits are lifted [by the rain] and some farmers are taking a gamble and planting crops. There’s more hope than there was a month ago. We just need the follow-up rain now. That’s what we’re praying for.”
As of 10 February, The Salvation Army had distributed just over $15 million to more than 5000 households as part of the Australian Government Drought Community Support Initiative (DCSI) that was introduced on 21 November last year.
Denise Thomas, The Salvation Army DCSI program coordinator, said her team had received around 15,000 applications for assistance in recent months.
“We have 27 employees, 18 chaplains and a crew of dedicated volunteers working full-time to stand alongside individuals and families affected by the drought. Salvation Army officers (ministers) in drought-affected areas are also on the front line supporting individuals, families and communities that are hurting.
“Those completing drought assessments are saying: ‘Every week the stories are getting worse’.”
Denise said that, despite the recent rain, recovery is going to take years. “People are more and more desperate. Even though people have seen some rain now, the farmers say it will take five years of good sustainable rain to get back to just half of what they had and half of the income they had prior to the commencement of the drought. Some may never recover from significant debt.
“Farmers are walking off their farms daily. Some have de-stocked completely. Some farmers are not earning any money from their farms.”
Dianne and Rusty Lawson, Western NSW rural chaplains, are currently travelling around the drought-stricken townships of Gilgandra, Warren, Coonamble and Coonabarabran. A group of retired Salvation Army officers is with them, in their caravans and mobile homes, to put on concerts, visit nursing homes, take part in combined church services, and bring some joy and encouragement to those doing it tough.