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Southern Australia

Australia is the continent with the least rainfall, apart from Antartica. Its two largest rivers, the Murray and the Darling, have been extensively dammed for power and irrigation, reducing flows to the sea by three-quarters but providing three million people and 40% of Australia's farms with water.

Salt rising to the surface as the lower reaches of the Murray dried out has destroyed prime agricultural land. Wetlands have shrunk, species numbers have dropped and the Australian National Trust has declared the whole river an "endangered area".

In the east, the Snowy River was dammed and diverted to the Murray basin decades ago to water the country's dry interior. But the ecological impact on the depleted river was so great that some flow was restored in 2002.

Water extraction from the Murray river was capped in 1995 and programmes to repair some of the destruction are now under way.


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