SYDNEY — Weird is the only word for it. In the midst of its biggest-ever economic boom, Australia is drying up. Underground, minerals are being dug up and shipped to Asia at record rates for record prices. Above ground, a drought is so bad that this food-exporting country may not be able to feed itself.

Veteran Prime Minister John Howard hardly knows whether to laugh or cry. Apart from agonizing over whether to send more peacekeeping troops into Iraq and Afghanistan, he should be looking forward to enjoying a shoo-in at a national election later this year. Instead, he is praying for rain.

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