The University of Newcastle, Australia

Drought and rural wellbeing research awarded by The Royal Society of NSW

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Recognised by a prestigious award from The Royal Society of NSW, PhD student Emma Austin, alongside the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health and the Centre for Water, Climate and Land, researches the relationship between drought and wellbeing in rural communities – an issue of increasing importance as the climate crisis worsens.

While drought has long been a prominent feature of the Australian climate, experts agree the climate crisis is worsening the intensity of a drought’s effect.

Miss Austin said as rural communities are at the frontline of drought, understanding and addressing the mental toll this takes on these communities is paramount.

“Rural Australia contributes so much to our economy and culture,” said Miss Austin.Miss Emma Austin accepting award

Miss Austin’s research takes into account the links between wellbeing and adaptive capacity, including the need for successful adaptation and increased resilience towards drought - essential for the survival of rural communities.

“I looked at the sociodemographic and community factors that influenced drought-related stress in farmers,” she said.

“I found that farmers who were under 35 years old, lived and worked on their farm, were remotely located and were experiencing financial hardship were more prone to drought-related stress.”

Identifying vulnerable populations within the broader community allows funding and interventions to be targeted and reach the people in most need. Miss Austin’s research will help inform policies and community-based initiatives that support individuals and communities affected by drought.

“Some research suggests that there may be changes in the duration, frequency and magnitude of drought in the future as a result of climate change. But lots of research also shows that large uncertainties also exist around if, how, where and when drought could change.”

Miss Austin said while there is still a lack of certainty as to the nature of future drought, there was no doubt Australians needed to respond now.

“We need to adapt to drought,” she said.

Above: Miss Emma Austin accepting her award.

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