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13 August 2020

SYDNEY, Thursday 13 August 2020 – According to young people in NSW who have lived with drought, the three key areas that are missing from Australia’s approach to managing it are long term planning, inter-governmental co-ordination and dedicated support for building and maintaining community resilience.

They also strongly encourage all stakeholders working in drought to create opportunities for young people to not only meaningfully participate in these management issues (which massively effect and impact upon their lives and communities) but also to create leadership roles that tap their deep lived experience.

Eighty-eight young attendees from last year’s NSW Youth Summit on Living with Drought have worked with UNICEF Australia (UA), to produce the "Generation Drought" report, released today, which contains the recommendations, as well as over-arching guiding principles and examples of successful good practice.

“Though Australia has been living through a catastrophic bushfire season and now a pandemic, the drought has not gone away, despite promising rainfall in various areas,” said Nicole Breeze, UA Director of Australian Programs. “This is a particularly important point because the participants in this summit have drawn upon their, often life-long, experiences living in drought to offer informed thinking on solutions that address the key question of: How should we manage ‘drought’, not just manage ‘in times of drought’?”

“In fact, many of the issues addressed by this report are timely in the context of current events,” Ms Breeze said. “They deal with resilience, with coping in disaster, with mental health and with community recovery.”

The recommendations in the report, named after a phrase used by one of the participants, address the broad areas of:

 - mental health approaches to assisting drought-affected young people and children, their families and communities;

 - the roles of schools and universities in supporting communities through drought;

water and natural resource management; and

 - the critical importance of ensuring Aboriginal communities have a seat at the table where their strong cultural connection to water and land is addressed. 

“Overwhelmingly, these young people aged between 14 and 24 years told the summit that they were sick of ‘talk’ from decision-makers, principally successive governments and vested interests,” said Samantha Newman, co-author of the report, who was also the Summit Director. “They are tired of ideological policy and underinvestment in the problem and the regions; they do not want to hear any more polarised conversations about the environment; they want real conversations and they want our country, our politicians and our governments to work hard to achieve real solutions.”

“This report makes it clear that the message from these young people is that they should be recognised as stakeholders in approaches to drought, not trotted out as mascots to accompany adult speakers,” Ms Newman said. “They also strongly consider that the ongoing problems associated with protracted drought are solvable, but that such solutions require energy, investment and partnerships with communities.”

Specific recommendations in "Generation Drought", intended to guide policy development include:

 - Resilience through participation, strength and community, such as:  Development of an over-arching national agenda or framework for young people to address chronic regional and remote disadvantage, as well as whole of government models and standards for youth participation;  Establishment of holistic programs for young people in drought-affected communities on life skills, education and wellbeing;  Employment of mental health models that emphasise community-based, strength-based approaches, rather than medical models that pathologise experiences like grief and sadness.

 - Coordination is the key to success:  One of the most crucial, yet overlooked, aspects of drought response has been coordination at all levels - from actors involved on-the-ground in the local community or shire up to the federal government - in relation to sharing successful approaches, information, guidance, support and service provision. Development of co-ordination structures and responsibilities are therefore crucial.

 - Reliable, relevant service provision is the foundation:  It is just as important to invest in social support structures, mechanisms and services for farmers and drought-affected communities, as it is to invest in financial support – particularly for young people, who are very often overlooked – for example, provision and promotion of accessible (cost, location, platform, reliability), context-sensitive and consistent (long-term) mental health and youth services, including peer-to-peer approaches.

 - Sharing of successes across jurisdictions:  Without mechanisms, avenues or opportunities to share successes with other drought-affected areas, initiatives, ideas and experiences - and lessons learned from them – are far too often lost, leading to huge inefficiencies. "Generation Drought" suggests a host of solutions, including collaborations between universities, local communities, service providers and governments.

 - Provision of strategic guidance across the three levels of government:  A lack of state and federal drought strategy has resulted in band-aid and ad-hoc solutions that lack coherence, as well as decision-making that lacks transparency and accountability – "Generation Drought" suggests this could be rectified by developing and resourcing an integrated national drought management strategy based on scientific evidence, extensive stakeholder consultation and the principles of the Sendai Disaster Risk Reduction Framework (adopted by the UN in 2015). 

“As our Drought Summit participants repeatedly reiterated on the issue of drought – many of them have never known anything else in their lives. They have been educated in drought. They have spent their lives learning about drought. They work in drought – many taking on huge responsibilities from a very young age on agricultural properties and in farming communities. They care for family members, in both physical and mental health challenges, in drought. They have real, lived experience of drought,” said Nicole Breeze.

 “As "Generation Drought" so clearly articulates, we have too much to lose if we fail to involve them, as the critical stakeholders they are, and for the thinking and solutions they can offer us.”

 The full "Generation Drought" report and a guiding summary fact sheet are available on the UNICEF Australia website.