CANBERRA • The government of New South Wales (NSW), Australia's most populous state, has declared that it is 100 per cent in drought, with a quarter considered to be in "intense drought".
Figures from the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) show every part of the state is affected by the dry conditions, according to ABC News.
"We've seen the area of drought just expand slightly; we've seen the area of intense drought expand and slightly change its focus," DPI agricultural climatologist Anthony Clark said yesterday.
Conditions are similarly dire in Queensland to the north, where the state government says nearly 60 per cent of land is suffering drought conditions, which are also affecting the southern states of Victoria and South Australia.
A crippling drought is ravaging vast tracts of Australia's pastoral heartland, decimating herds and putting desperate farmers under intense financial and emotional strain, with little relief in sight.
While the country is no stranger to "big drys" and its people have long had a reputation as resilient, the extreme conditions across swathes of Australia's east are the worst in more than 50 years.
A smattering of rain earlier this week did little to ease one of the driest starts to the year on record, turning pastures to dust and destroying huge areas of grazing and crop lands.
With no feed, farmers have been forced to ship in grain or hay from other parts of the country to keep sheep and cattle alive, spending thousands of extra dollars a week just to stay afloat.
Some exhausted graziers spend hours each day hand-feeding their stock because the ground is too dry for grass to grow. Others have been forced to shoot starving cattle.
"They are shooting their stock because they don't want them to suffer. They are shooting them because they just can't afford to feed them any more," said Ms Tash Johnston, co-founder of charity Drought Angels.
The federal and NSW state governments are providing more than A$1.5 billion (S$1.52 billion) in drought relief packages, designed to offset the cost of feed and freight, and increase access to mental health services for farmers feeling the strain.
Farmers have also had to ration water for their families and their herds because the dams on their properties are dry or nearly empty.
Murrurundi, a town about 300km north of Sydney in NSW, has received less than 170mm of rain this year and could run out of drinking water within months.
Grazier Mark Wylie has spent A$30,000 in the past six weeks boring for groundwater, to no avail.
Even if he or Murrurundi authorities find a water source, he told local media, "it's a finite resource, it won't go on forever".
XINHUA, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS