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Australian drought third worst on record

From Yahoo

Wednesday June 1, 2:21 PM

-- Australia's agricultural heartland is experiencing its worst drought in 60 years, the National Climate Centre said, while the government said the dry-spell is affecting economic growth.

The four-year drought was the third worst on the dry continent in recorded history after one between 1895 and 1903 and the 1938 to 1946 drought, senior climatologist Grant Beard told AFP.

"We are talking about four years of pretty bleak conditions in the current situation... the other ones we are talking about went longer," he said.

Low rainfall and extremely high temperatures have created the worst drought in six decades in Australia's Murray Darling region, Beard said. The area generates about one-third of the nation's agricultural output.

"In terms of the Murray Darling basin, the drought there is the worst since the 1940s," he said of the water catchment area which stretches south from Queensland to New South Wales and Victoria and east into part of South Australia.

"Temperatures have also been quite above average at record or near record levels," Beard said. "Particularly, the last five months it's been extraordinarily warm across a large part of the country."

The drought affects the eastern coastal states of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, as well as South Australia and the lush southern island of Tasmania. Many parts of Australia have not a single drop of rain in April, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

The New South Wales government has declared 90 percent of the state in drought and on Tuesday introduced tough new water restrictions on homes as dam levels dropped below 40 percent capacity.

Treasurer Peter Costello said Wednesday the dry spell was starting to cut into economic growth as agricultural incomes had not fully recovered from the 2002-03 drought.

"The impact of drought now evident in four quarterly falls in agricultural production is now affecting the measure of overall economic growth," he said.