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Despair as drought cripples ‘Australia’s Mississippi’

COBRAM, Australia: Farmer Mazzareno Bisogni fights back tears as he stands among the remains of trees he planted 35 years ago, victims of a drought hitting ‘Australia's Mississippi’.
Image Below: This photo taken on May 26, 2009 shows algae along the Murray River at Albury on May 26, 2009, as the continuing drought affects the river which supplies irrigation to Australia's food bowl region, some 300 kilometres north of Melbourne. — AFP
Bisogni's orchard lies in the heart of the once-mighty Murray-Darling river system which irrigates Australia's food bowl, the vast southeastern corner responsible for 40 per cent of agricultural output.
The eight-year 'big dry', the worst drought in a century, has devastated the region, an area covering 1.06 million square kilometres — the size of France and Spain combined.
Lack of water this year meant the fruit on Bisogni's apple and pear trees in Victoria state literally cooked on their branches under the furious Australian sun, making them suitable only for jam.
Sections of the river have become little more than stagnant pools as the drought continues, with banks eroded into crumbling dirt cliffs that leave the roots of gum trees exposed.
For three months this year, a toxic blue-green algal bloom leeched along 800 kilometres of the Murray, prompting warnings from authorities not to swim in the river.
Water levels are so low that the freshwater lakes near the Murray's mouth in South Australia are turning acid as soil minerals are exposed to oxygen. The lakes are now below sea-level and only man-made barriers keep the ocean out.
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