Drought Crisis: What You Need To Know In Under 5 Minutes

The lowdown on these Aussie farmers and the long, dry road ahead.

You've probably read countless headlines about Aussie farmers plagued by the drought, and there's a good chance you've seen harrowing images of barren land and dead livestock.

It's a pretty dire situation.

When things get bad, it's easy to look away or get overwhelmed by the complex facts and figures of a debate.  Here's a breakdown for you.

Who Is Worst Affected?

South-east Australia is in the grip of a drought worse than many can remember.

If you need numbers to help paint the grim picture, here are some for you. Ninety-nine per cent of NSW and 57 per cent of Queensland is in drought or is drought-affected.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said parts of Australia experienced the second-warmest summer on record in the past year and had also just been through one of the driest and warmest autumns on record.

Here's a picture that helps spell it out.

This BOM weather map shows rainfall level from April 1 to July 31 this year. IMAGE: BOM

Many farmers across Australia have run out of feed and can barely keep their stock alive.

Farmers are struggling to give water to their animals amid the dry spell, and it looks to be a prolonged and dusty road ahead. Some farmers have been forced to shoot livestock they can't afford to feed.

READ MOREThe Haunting Poem That Is The Silent Face Of Drought

READ MOREThe Next Generation Of Farmers Undeterred By Drought

What Is The Government Doing About It?

All levels of government had been criticised by regional stakeholders for not doing enough to support those in desperate straits on the land.

On Monday the New South Wales Government's drought assistance tipped over $1 billion, after a fresh cash injection for struggling farmers the Premier says have faced an "unforgivably dry winter".

And there’s more Federal drought support on the way, according to Malcolm Turnbull.

On Friday, the Prime Minister foreshadowed further announcements are on their way to help people in hardship.

To date, the Federal government has extended the limit for the farm household assistance -- which is a welfare payment for struggling farmers -- to four years.

NSW Will Double Drought Reflief Package For Farmers
What Is Big Business Doing About It?

On Saturday, the Commonwealth Bank bowed to federal pressure and announced it will allow credit adjustments for eligible farmers caught in tough times.

This week, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud singled out CBA and accused the bank not doing enough to help farmers doing it tough.

The mechanism allows primary producers to remove money from their taxable income during good years to use during tough times.

Earlier in the week, the Commonwealth Bank donated $2 million to drought relief.

Image: Getty Images

National Australia Bank has bent to the pressure brought by the royal commission and will stop charging drought-affected farmers penalty interest rates for missed repayments.

ANZ Bank has said it will donate $1 million, Origin Energy $100,000, Suncorp $50,000, Bank of Queensland $50,000, Domino’s Pizza $40,000, Xero $20,000 and the ASX $20,000.

Medibank said it already donates $120,000 per year to the Red Cross.

READ MOREHow Banks And Politicians Are Helping Drought-Stricken Farmers

READ MORE: Culture Of Resilience Sees Farmers Suffering In Silence

What Do The Skeptics Say?

Life on the land has always captured the nation's hearts, but some are now questioning the sustainability of many Australian farms.

Often the worst time to decide drought policy is during one -- given the emotive and at times hyperbolic love affair Aussies have with the land.

There's skepticism about the wisdom (and longevity) of the current system of drought assistance.

A crippling drought is setting in across the country. Image: Getty

The number of people employed in the agriculture and fishing industries is approximately 322,000, that's almost 26% lower than it was in 2002. Those employed in this industry accounts for just a fraction of Australia's labour force.

A Rudd government commissioned Productivity Commission review in 2009 reviewed the then policy -- where drought-affected farmers received as much as $100,000 in interest payment relief-- and concluded it was inefficient.

The report said these polices “do not help farmers improve their self-reliance, preparedness and climate change management”.

Whether farmers being propped up by the government during a dry spell simply postpones the inevitable -- is an important discussion -- but probably one best canvassed once the worst has passed.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or rural helpline Virtual Psychologist on 1300 665 234 (or send a text message to 0488 807 266) 

For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300 22 4636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

If you want to help Australian farmers in need, you can donate to a registered charity. Donate online to Rural Aid's Buy a Bale, Drought Angels or Lions' Need for Feed. You can also support farmers by buying Australian grown produce at your local supermarket.

Contact the author at alattouf@networkten.com.au.