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Australia flooding racks up a hefty bill

Economists have estimated the bill from the prolonged floods – the worst to hit Queensland for half a century – at $5.94 billion. But they say the real cost will be known only when the waters recede.

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Willem Vervoort, a hydrology professor at the University of Sydney, says: “Over the last decade, we’ve realized that dams are not a very good way of controlling floods. International studies also show they have a lot of detrimental effects on rivers and their eco-systems, because they change the flow dynamics and the temperature of the water.”

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According to Dr. Vervoort, research carried out in Germany and the United States, particularly since the devastating floods of 1993 in St Louis, Mo., has focused on “working with the water, for instance by rerouting it, rather than trying to control it through dams.”

With monsoonal rains forecast for the rest of this week, little relief is in sight yet for waterlogged Queensland. In low-lying areas of Brisbane, locals sandbagged their homes Monday against the rising waters. In Dalby, west of the capital, residents were evacuated as a second wave of flooding threatened homes already inundated two weeks ago.

The state’s vital coal-mining industry, meanwhile, remained virtually shut down, thanks to flooded mines and submerged roads and railways. In the ports, ships waited vainly offshore to transport coking coal – used in the manufacture of steel – to the steel mills of Asia. Australia is the source of two-thirds of the world’s coking coal exports.

With crops ruined and agricultural production in Queensland at a standstill, Australians have been warned to expect higher food prices. The cost of red peppers has already doubled, while other fruit and vegetables are up about 20 percent in the wholesale markets.

The silver lining?

But analysts say the floods will also have positive consequences for Australia, including pushing up world coal prices. For farmers, the increased moisture in the soil will be a long-term benefit.

In addition, the risk of bush fires in Queensland this summer is virtually zero, according to weather forecasters. A BOM spokesman says: “The bush fire season has effectively been canceled, because of how sodden the state is and has been for a long time.”


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