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Youth speak up at drought summit

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As a young person who wants to enter the agriculture industry, Luke Richards knows the impact of the drought better than most.

The 18-year-old is one of the participants at an inaugural three-day NSW Youth Drought Summit in Lake Macquarie, which wraps up tomorrow (Friday 11 October).

Children’s charity Unicef Australia, with the support of the state government, has hosted the summit so youth are able to join decision-makers to discuss the challenges they face in living with drought, as well as how responses can be improved.

Mr Richards, who hails from Wollongong but now studies at Tocal College in the Lower Hunter, says the summit is a chance to reinforce the drought’s severity.

He believes the federal government’s agreement to offer $150 million in funds for the Australian Space Agency to develop technologies for the US mission to land astronauts on the moon by 2024 has been a case in point.

NASA is expected to use the lunar program as the base to send astronauts to Mars.

“We can have a talk to policy makers so they can see why they are not helping out as much as they can,” Mr Richards says.
“They’re willing to spend [that] to go to Mars, but all they have to do is walk out west and it looks like Mars.”

The drought summit also aims to explore the best ways to support children and young people to build resilience and become better prepared to reduce the negative impacts of ongoing and future drought.

It presents an opportunity for youth to have a break from the land; work with their peers who are going through similar struggles; and connect, engage and reflect.

Mr Richards says it’s important for people to know there is support there for them.

“We’ll be trying to brainstorm some coping strategies to give people ways of getting through,” he says.
“Mental health is a big issue during the drought.”

Apart from Mr Richards, proud Paarkantji Wilyakali woman, Tameka O’Donnell, has also attended the summit.

Originally from Broken Hill in far west NSW but now residing in Newcastle, Ms O’Donnell says she often witnesses the drought’s devastating effects when she returns home, as well as via social media platforms.

“Broken Hill has been in drought for several years, with it only worsening where it is now at a stage of such severity that it is sickening,” she says.

“Growing up, we would often go fishing and hunting – a very common cultural practice amongst my family.

“Now, there is no water in the river to fish and our traditional meat such as kangaroo are unhealthy and scarce.

“The water is so unhealthy that recently, due to the drought, millions of fish died making it into the media, but the drought and river’s condition have long been deteriorating.”

The summit’s program of events focused on policy (Wednesday), psycho-social support (today), and advocacy (tomorrow).

Visit unicef.org.au/our-work/unicef-in-australia/drought-summit for more information.

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