The incredibly destructive wildfires that are sweeping across Australia have been able to spread so quickly because most of the land is extremely dry due to an ongoing drought. The Bureau of Meteorology has predicted that this summer will be far hotter than usual, with no forecast for significant rain. Given the circumstances, Australian citizens have faced the toughest water restrictions that the country has seen in over a decade, which includes a total ban on hoses.
Water restrictions in Sydney, the Blue Mountains, and Illawarra were upgraded to “level two” after dam levels sank to less than half capacity, which is the lowest level since the Millennium Drought began in 2003. A restriction of “level two” means that gardens can only be watered at certain times, and not with a hose, but with a watering can or bucket. Swimming pools and spas are only able to be topped up for 15 minutes a day with a trigger nozzle, and drip irrigation systems can only be used for 15 minutes at certain hours of the day. Furthermore, permits are required before filling any pool that holds more than 500 liters. Australian citizens who are caught breaking the restrictions face a fine of up to $220, while businesses who are caught breaking the rules could face fines as high as $550.
Meanwhile, the government of Australia has given a multi-billion dollar Singaporean food company rights to extract large volumes of water from the country so it can be resold. The food and agriculture giant Olam International is extracting 89,000 megalitres of Australian water so it can be sold privately to a Canadian pension fund for $490 million.
The Canadian group will reportedly use the water to irrigate almond trees.
The chairman of the Victorian Farmers Federation’s water council, Richard Anderson, told the Sydney Morning Herald: ‘Really, all you’ve got is a change of ownership, it (the water) has gone from a Singapore-owned company to a Canadian pension fund. It’s a big bulk of water but it’s still being used in agriculture. It’s not as if they’ve just come in as a speculator and said ”we’ll go and buy a big patch of water and we’ll trade it every year”.’
This is just one many deals of this nature that the Australian government has with foreign countries.
Last year, the Australian government released its foreign ownership of water entitlement register, which showed that foreign investors own a significant stake in the country’s natural resources. China and the US, in particular, had the largest share of water entitlements in Australia. The figures that were released last year showed that one in ten water entitlements is owned by some type of foreign entity.
The bushfires in Australia have burned over 12 million acres of land, making these fires the largest in the world. Since they began in September, these fires have scorched more than five times the amount of land lost to fires in the Amazon this year.
Sadly, over a billion animals are expected to have perished in the wildfires, with many others facing grave circumstances as their habitat is being destroyed.