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It was one of the longest of the twentieth centuryand one of the most destructive in terms ofdamage to the physical environment. Largeareas of topsoil were lost and there was somedamage to vegetation and wildlife.
As droughts occur frequently in Australia,most native plants and animals are usually wellequipped to deal with them. However, introducedcrops and animals can be severely affected,leading to crop failures, minimal planting of newcrops and the death of introduced stock, such assheep and cattle. Consequently, droughts havethe most impact on areas given over to croppingor intensive grazing. The drought of 1991±95 hada devastating impact on such areas.
As the map opposite shows, the drought had itsgreatest impact on north-eastern Australia, particularly Queensland. Most of eastern Australiaexperienced below average rainfall for much of theperiod of the drought.
The cause of the drought was clearly El Niñorelated, as the graph of the SOI for the periodshows. For nearly all of the period, the SOI wasbelow zero and for many months it was in therange > 10.
Southern Oscillation Index, 1989±95One of the most dramatic consequences ofsevere drought is the dust storm. When the soillacks moisture and dries out, plants and treeroots that normally hold the soil together witherand die. The dry soil particles on the surface areeasily lifted into the air by strong winds, and topsoilcan be carried across huge distances.
20100±10±20±30± 40Year1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994SOI5 month mean1995Southern OscillationFarmers reduced their stock numbers anddecreased the amount of land under crops. Someleft drought-affected areas permanently. Farmersattempted to reduce the impact of drought byimproving their farming methods, including theuse of conservation techniques and fodder productionsystems. Community-based groups suchas farming organisations lobbied for finnancialassistance from governments and provided assistancefor individual farmers. The CommonwealthGovernment provided $590 million in droughtrelief from 1992 to 1995. The government hasnow developed the National Drought Policy,which provides a range of subsidies and directfinnancial assistance.