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Type: Journal article
Title: Water torture: unravelling the psychological distress of irrigators in Australia
Author: Wheeler, S.
Zuo, A.
Loch, A.
Citation: Journal of Rural Studies, 2018; 62:183-194
Publisher: Elsevier
Issue Date: 2018
ISSN: 0743-0167
Statement of
Sarah Ann Wheeler, Alec Zuo, Adam Loch
Abstract: Water institutional and property right reform in the food bowl of Australia, the Murray–Darling Basin (MDB), has generated both benefits and costs for irrigators. Water allocation uncertainty along with the increased risk of recurring drought has been gradually placed back on irrigators to manage, and in the last decade there has been considerable reallocation of water from consumptive to environmental use in the MDB, which has caused much angst within rural communities. In the face of such change this study provides, for the first time, a large-scale profile (n = 1000) of irrigators' mental health in the MDB. Our point estimates suggest some irrigation industries in 2015-16 recorded some of the highest levels of psychological distress nationally; higher than dryland farmers or the Australian population. Financial difficulties were most associated with this distress, but it was intertwined and underpinned by the ongoing threat of water scarcity, which irrigators often incorrectly associate with the implementation of the Basin Plan. Psychological distress varied by industry and location: horticulturists reported the highest levels of distress, followed by broadacre, dairy and livestock. Future national water policy must consider the real impacts of water recovery, and recognize that so-called ‘socially neutral’ water recovery policies can actually cause significant community harm where they hamper farm exit and adaptation to a hotter future. We recommend that future water policy must focus on i) encouraging farmer adaptation (hence supporting water entitlement buy-back and eliminating on-farm irrigation infrastructure subsidies); and ii) removing farm exit barriers.
Keywords: Farm exit; farm stress; mental health; Murray–Darling Basin plan; water scarcity
Rights: © 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
DOI: 10.1016/j.jrurstud.2018.08.006
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Appears in Collections:Aurora harvest 8
Global Food Studies publications

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