Editor’s note:  Since this article was written many parts of Queensland have received significant falls of rain but as always follow up falls are required before the drought can be declared broken. Whilst this article relates to the situation in Queensland there are also problems in Western NSW and other parts of the nation who are experiencing  similar issues to those referred to in this article.

The terrible human toll of the two-year drought in Queensland is deepening, with new figures revealing at least 16 cattlemen, farmers and farm workers have taken their own lives in the state’s northwest in the past year. The tragic drought-linked suicides, which have rocked rural and remote communities from the northern Gulf Country to Blackall and Longreach, included a 16-year-old farm boy. The figures, which incorporate 10 suicides recorded by the Royal Flying Doctor Service based at Longreach and six other known suicides in the Gulf region of north Queensland, are unfortunately likely to be privately even higher, according to Queensland Lifeline director Derek Tuffield.

“This has been a very rapid-moving drought and its ferocity has caught a lot of people off-guard and in real financial stress, needing money to pay for food for the table, fuel for car, electricity for their properties, and feed and water for their stock,” Mr Tuffield said. “Just last week the cattle price fell again and we experienced a very bad suicide where a farmer was told his 400 cattle that were ready to go to market were too emaciated to be put on a truck and sold; so he shot them all and then himself.” Lifeline figures show that when a severe drought hits and persists in a rural community and financial and emotional stress levels climb, suicide rates increase sixfold.

But Mr Tuffield fears while bush families and communities still attach a stigma to suffering relatives who die by their own hand and impose a “code of silence” on their deaths, the tragic run of rural suicides will not end. “We need to be talking about this; gone are the days when you hush it up because it is only if people recognise the warning signs, the different behaviours, the withdrawals and ask ‘Are you OK?’ that we will stop these suicides,” Mr Tuffield said. “We have to let these farmers who are under the most stress know that they are not alone and that there is help there to ease the pressure on them; to give them some ray of hope.”

The National Farmers Federation is holding community forums that are all about people and saving lives. President Brent Findlay says “They provide a chance for many isolated families to get together, relax and share their stories and problems; and hopefully access financial and mental health services too. We have got to give some hope; we have all heard the awful stories of what is happening out there and the emotional toll and stress that has built, with people just so worn down and tired after two years or more of this,” Mr Finlay said. “We’ve just got to work on saving people now; this drought crisis has become about looking after your family, your mates, your neighbours and communities.”

St George farmer Scott Armstrong says his community is desperate for rain, and crops such as his now sown cotton heartbreakingly withering in the paddock as the summer rains once again fail. “The entire district is under an enormous amount of pressure, we all hear of cases of people who are desperate just to source some more water and feed; your heart goes out to them,” Mr Armstrong said, chatting with neighbour and local winemaker David Blacket. “But desperate situations like this also bring out the best in people; everyone around here is looking out for each other and their neighbours and making sure they are OK, because the mental and financial pressure is really building fast.”

More than two thirds of Queensland is now officially drought-declared, opening up the way for producers to receive emergency Centrelink aid and fodder subsidies. Hundreds of properties across the state have run out of water and grass as the summer rains again fail to fall, with families struggling to find money to pay for fodder and trucked-in water, let alone bank overdrafts and debts, which now average $2 million for every Queensland cattle business. Cattle markets remain flooded with stock that farmers are being forced to sell, pushing saleyard prices at the major sale centre of Roma to new lows.

Stock are now too emaciated or weak to move or sell. North Queensland federal politician Bob Katter estimates as many as 5000 to 10,000 cattle are dying daily on properties, either quickly shot by farmers or lingeringly in remote locations where rivers and waterholes have run dry. Tales abound of farm women selling wedding rings and family jewellery to buy feed for their cattle and food for their families. Mr Katter, whose vast Kennedy electorate covers much of northern Queensland and the Gulf country to Mt Isa, wants the federal government to buy bank debt from struggling farmers and the Queensland government to allow drought-stricken graziers to access underground artesian water.

The greatest tragedy is that we estimate that one farmer every four weeks is taking their life,” Mr Katter said. The depth of human tragedy caused by the drought was also spread across social media in a letter from Gulf stock agent, Shane Stafford that went viral. “Suicide in the farming community is a sensitive and painful issue for those left behind in very small communities, where everyone knows everyone,” wrote Mr Stafford. “So no one yells about it from the rooftops or keeps a tally on the fridge door; in fact, it is hardly talked about, but those of us who live out here and work in the agricultural industry all know someone who isn’t here anymore.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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North Korea has arrested a Christian missionary from Australia taking him into captivity even as it continues to face pressure to release an American missionary it has held for more than a year. John Short, 75, was arrested in the capital, Pyongyang. Short’s wife Karen said the trip was her husband’s second to North Korea. He had Christian materials that had been translated into Korean, according to a statement by his family. Short’s detention comes more than a year after North Korea arrested Kenneth Bae, an American missionary, after he entered the country from China.

Bae was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour for committing “hostile acts” against the North. Pyongyang has repeatedly resisted strong American pressure to release him. In an interview with Reuters, Karen Short said her husband had been open with North Korean officials about his faith and even read his Bible in front of government guides during his first trip there. “He won’t be intimidated by the Communists,” she said. Short has been repeatedly arrested in China after doing evangelical work there and “speaking out about brutality against Chinese Christians” in the country, according to a biography of him posted on a Christian website by Gospel Attract.

His work in China began after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, the biography said. The New York Times reported that a native of Barmera in southern Australia, Short came to Hong Kong in 1964, later focusing on missionary work with refugees from mainland China who had fled the Cultural Revolution. He raised three sons there with his wife, with whom he runs a Christian bookstore called the Christian Book Room. In an interview with That’s Online, a website devoted to Chinese affairs, Karen Short said Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs told her that her husband’s situation was “a different and difficult case.” Australia has limited diplomatic relations with North Korea.

“We’re Christians, and we’ve been here for 40 years,” the New York Times reported she said of Hong Kong. “He’s a front line man—this is what he does. But North Korea is very different—that’s why his heart was to go there. I’m asking people to pray for him.” North Korea was faulted this week in a sharply critical United Nations report for, among other things, its intolerance of religious freedom. According to the New York Times, the report detailed the North’s practice of “extermination,” murder, enslavement, torture, rape and persecution on grounds of race, religion and gender.

Source: Breaking Christian News

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As parts of central Queensland suffer from rainfall deficiencies rated the worst on record, the region is braced for a possible mid-year return of further drying under an El Nino.  University of Southern Queensland climate scientist Roger Stone and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are warning an El Nino, associated with drier weather, might take hold between May and July.  The Weather Bureau says central western NSW, northwestern Victoria, northern South Australia and much of central and western Queensland, and the Gulf Country, are suffering serious, severe and worst-on-record rainfall deficiencies for the 21 months to the end of December.

It says: “In the past 21-months, most of Queensland inland of the eastern coastal ranges and the Gulf Country as well as northern NSW and northeastern South Australia have received less than 60% of their long-term average rainfall for the period.” While the bureau predicts the currently neutral El Nino-Southern Oscillation index will remain so until autumn, Professor Stone, of the University of Southern Queensland’s  Centre for Sustainable Catchments, says in his January climate outlook and review that: “Some of the very long-term sea-surface temperature models are strongly suggesting the development of an El Nino event and consequent drought conditions from winter 2014 onwards.”

NOAA “predicts an El Nino starting in May-July 2014”. Bureau climate monitoring manager Karl Braganza said “we are in a firmly neutral stage” regarding an El Nino but said European, Japanese, US and Australian models showed parts of the equatorial Pacific “warming up (around June) but not hitting the El Nino threshold”. “Our own model has warming occurring a little later, more into early spring. It’s all tracking towards warming conditions, indicating there’s something out there in the ocean dynamics favouring that forecast,” Dr Braganza said. He said a pair of “patchy” monsoon seasons had left central Queensland with rainfall deficiencies. “Unfortunately, they have had a bad sequence of summers.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports