Regional wellbeing low in drought areas

Prolonged drought, lack of telecommunication and economic downturn are contributing factors to low levels of regional wellbeing.
Prolonged drought, lack of telecommunication and economic downturn are contributing factors to low levels of regional wellbeing. PHOTO: FILE

Regions in New South Wales and Queensland experiencing prolonged drought and downturn in the mining industry have reported some of the lowest levels of wellbeing in Australia, a new report reveals.

The 2014 Regional Wellbeing Survey showed those experiencing lack of rain and decline in the mining sector were more likely to rate the health of their local economy poorly.

In NSW there were 402 participants from the central west, 30 people were surveyed from the far west and 477 from the Orana region.

In total 3700 farmers were nationally surveyed.

University of Canberra senior research fellow Dr Jacki Schirmer said they oversampled farmers to get an in-depth picture of how things were going.

The average wellbeing scores were consistently lower in areas experiencing drought and rainfall deficiency, but were also low in several regions not experiencing drought.

“While many factors influence wellbeing, amongst the regions reporting the poorest levels of wellbeing are those currently experiencing the effects of drought, in many cases in tandem with a downturn in the mining industry,” Dr Schirmer said.

“In these drought-hit communities, most residents – not only farmers or mining workers – are reporting concerns about the future of their community, as well as lower levels of personal wellbeing, showing just how critical it is to understand how drought affects everyone in a rural community.”

Farmers reported much lower access to telecommunications infrastructure compared to other groups.

Dr Schirmer said a lack of access to telecommunication was a major concern for farmers.

“Telecommunication is critical for farm businesses,” she said.

“It creates a big difference to the innovation and development of farm enterprises.”

Women aged 65 and older, and dryland farmers were more likely to report high levels of wellbeing compared to the national average.

Men and those aged 30 to 49 were more likely to report low levels of wellbeing.

Those least likely to report psychological distress were older people aged 65 and older, dryland farmers, and irrigators.

Dryland farmers were on average, more positive in their local economy, jobs and living costs, than non-farmers or irrigators.

Dr Schirmer said last year farmers were asked how their wellbeing could be supported in times of stress.

The results found farmers rely on their family and friends who were in a position to help and local businesses.

“When local businesses are supported, farmers are supported,:” she said.

“Shopping locally help everyone survive a drought and generates activity.”

In total, 12,125 people took part in the 2014 Regional Wellbeing Survey, an increase of almost 3,000 when compared to the 9,135 who took part in the 2013 survey.