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Walgett in western NSW running out of food, Indigenous bodies tell inquiry

Caitlin Furlong and Jen McCutcheon, Wednesday August 12, 2020 - 11:52 EST
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The township has faced crisis after crisis in recent times. - ABC

Water mismanagement, the coronavirus pandemic and a supermarket fire have led to food shortages in the western community of Walgett, according to local Indigenous groups.

The Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service and Dharriwaa Elders Group will tell the House of Representatives inquiry into food pricing and security in remote Indigenous communities how crises have impacted on food availability and the wellbeing of residents.

In a written submission, the groups said it had been difficult to access government help to deal with the food and water shortages and instead relied on donations.

"[We] have long recognised the links between limited access to good nutrition, including safe drinking water, and our community's high incidences of chronic disease," the submission said.

They said and pandemic-related panic buying earlier this year.

"At the height of the first wave, IGA was only receiving 26 per cent of the stock it was ordering. We again became highly aware of the vulnerability of our current food supplies."

The submission goes on to say the cost of a standard basket of groceries costs $160 more in Walgett than in Sydney.

As a result, some families relied on meals provided by the school canteen and breakfast programs.

"Dharriwaa Elders Group was receiving reports of hunger when the school had closed and families could not buy the supplies they needed."

They also said high salt levels in drinking water, caused by drought, meant locals had to buy bottled water, but that became more difficult when supply tightened due to coronavirus panic buying.

High levels of sodium were detected in the town's drinking water and locals were now waiting for a reverse osmosis plant to be constructed, the submission said.

"Until that time, the town relies on buying water from the only supermarket, which is unsustainable both in terms of cost and in terms of plastic bottles when there are limited recycling services."

They concluded by calling for a national food and nutrition strategy that prioritised community involvement in food policy, as well as for the health of rivers and groundwater to be restored.


© ABC 2020

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