Even though some welcome rain fell in and around the Oslo area on Monday, it wasn’t nearly enough to end a drought that’s now raising more alarm over large parts of the country. Agriculture Minister John Georg Dale rolled out some emergency measures just before the weekend for farmers demanding state assistance.
Farmers often call upon the state to solve most of their problems and they’d been on national TV for days, complaining and demanding that Dale “do something.” His powers to make it rain are limited, however, and rain is what’s needed most to not only help farmers but also hinder looming household water shortages and lower extreme fire danger.
Dale did, however, remove the high tariff on imports of hay and straw that’s normally imposed to protect Norwegian farmers who raise grass for livestock feed from foreign competition. From July 13, the agriculture ministry will set zero customs duty on imports from countries that, unlike Norway, either have irrigation or other forms of watering systems, or have had enough rain to ensure harvests.
The ministry will also continue to pay out subsidy to farmers whose own crops have shriveled up. The ministry will further expedite its systems for compensating farmers for their losses. Payments will be made before the end of this year. The ministry stressed that local governments won’t have to control areas where farmers claim compensation.
“These measures aren’t meant to be symbolic, but rather to actually help farmers,” Dale told news bureau NTB. “We’re doing everything we can with the resources we have.” He noted how some farmers have said they haven’t been able to grow or acquire enough grass and hay for cattle feed this winter, and may need to slaughter animals in the fall. State broadcaster NRK reported on Tuesday that some farmers are already having problems feeding their livestock, and may not be able to wait until autumn. Dale is also asking local municipalities and counties to do what they can to expedite compensation claims.
Water restrictions remain in place, meanwhile, while helicopters are standing by, ready to take off and carry water for dumping on any new forest fire that flares up. Airports at Sola in Stavanger, Værnes in Trondheim, Ås and Kjeller outside Oslo and Torp in Sandfjord have all beefed up preparedness for handling fire alarms.
Several flying clubs around southeastern Norway are also making aircraft available if needed. The problem is that the drought also has reduced the underground water table in Norway. “It’s very low and vegetation has been damaged,” Hans Kristian Madsen of the state directorate for security and preparedness (DSB) told newspaper Aftenposten.
A total of 762 grass- and brush-fires were registered by early this month, along with 302 forest fires so far this year. The numbers for all of last year were 773 and 301 respectively, indicating that the drought has doubled the incidence of fires.
“Measuring the danger for forest and brush fires is no exact science,” Madsen said, “but many claim we have to go back to 1947 to find a year with the kind of conditions we have now. This year’s state budget for fire-fighting was exhausted many weeks ago. Now the message is: “Don’t think money, just be ready to save lives and protect valuables.”