Rural families still struggling with the effects of the ongoing drought

Cumulative effects of drought show sustained hardship – survey

A recent survey undertaken by our team has found a significant number of rural families are still struggling to pay for housing and food as a result of the continuing drought.

The survey shows a nearly 50 per cent increase in people struggling to pay for housing compared to pre-drought conditions, and two in five people are struggling to pay for food as a result of the ongoing drought. Royal Far West CEO, Lindsay Cane AM, said the results highlight how drought has a cumulative negative effect on rural families – the longer the drought continues, the worse the impact and therefore the health of parents in rural families becomes, which has a direct impact on children’s wellbeing in these households. “The bottom line is this survey shows us that the drought is still an issue for too many families in rural NSW and it continues to have significant effects on livelihoods and the wellbeing of families. This challenge, coupled with bushfires and the current COVID 19 pandemic, is placing significant and ongoing financial and mental health stress on rural families,” Ms Cane said. Latest figures released by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (March 2020) show around three quarters of NSW remains drought affected, with 12 per cent in drought and 7 % in intense drought. The Drought Impact Survey 2020, was undertaken by 36 rural families staying at RFW in February and March of this year. It assessed the impact of the ongoing drought on people’s employment, financial capacity, parent health and their child’s wellbeing. On average, families participating in the survey had been in drought for more than three years.

The main findings of the survey include:
• a significant increase in financial stress, with over a third of respondents having difficulty paying for food
• more than half of families can no longer afford health costs, with the number of adults reporting poor or fair health doubling to over 40 per cent
• a 50 per cent decrease in families’ abilities to pay for health services
• eight in ten people cannot afford dental care
• one in two respondents are struggling to pay for transport – more than double compared to before the drought

The major impacts of the drought were listed as financial hardship, including loss of jobs; a higher cost of living; added stress on relationships; and increased mental health needs of families and communities.

Families surveyed said the help most needed was improved access to support and services, including health services, and financial support.

Ms Cane said the survey highlights how our rural and remote communities need additional local services, particularly health services, with mental health counselling a priority.
“Geography should not be a barrier to disadvantage, yet children living in rural and remote areas are up to five times as likely as children living in urban areas to have challenges with their developmental health (2015 AEDC). Lack of access to services creates systemic barriers to optimising health and wellbeing outcomes, with life-long implications,” Ms Cane said.

The survey also shows the longer the drought lasts, the greater the impact on parent’s health, and consequently the greater the impact on financial capacity. It also highlighted that decreasing health and consequent financial stress of parents resulted in an increased distress and reduced activity for the children.
Ms Cane said research shows that parent’s health, both physical and mental, impacts on the future wellbeing of a child. “When people have no money for emergencies, are financially stressed, are low on water and live in communities where morale is continuously low, there are significant health consequences. This plays out in the wellbeing of the child further down the track – as a society we need to keep our drought families a high priority for support, to prevent damage to young lives and families in in the future,” Ms Cane said.

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