Sydney, Austrailia Australia's worst drought in a century has affected more than half of Australia's farm and ranch land, making more than 70,000 farmers eligible for special federal relief, the government said Tuesday.
The cost of additional drought aid in interest rate subsidies and farmer welfare payments under so-called exceptional circumstances could be $424 million, said acting Prime Minister Mark Vaile.
That's in addition to $263 million announced last week in extra government handouts for farmers hit hardest by the drought.
"We are in uncharted waters, if you like, as far as this drought is concerned," said Vaile, who is standing in for Prime Minster John Howard while he is overseas.
"I don't know that we've seen this much of Australia's land mass covered by drought in the past, and it requires a significant response," he said.
Much of Australia's farming and ranching belt in the south and southeast has been in the grip of a severe drought for up to five years. Many officials blame global warming, and some warn that land that has been fertile for hundreds of years may have an uncertain future.