Water/Scarcity: Photo Gallery
Photographs by Rudi Dundas and Daniel Roca
Access to safe drinking water remains one of the largest problems faced by undeveloped societies today and one of growing concern as climate change increases the number of regions affected by water scarcity. Throughout the last century, water use has grown at a rate twice that of population increase as both natural and human-made causes deplete and spoil the earth’s limited freshwater supply.
A fine art photographer focused on social change and environmental issues, Rudi Dundas spent five years traveling and documenting communities grappling with water scarcity. Seen here are her images of the tribal people of Sub-Saharan Africa: communities forced to abandon centuries-long ways of life in the face of government-sanctioned programs. In Myanmar’s Dala township, a lack of government intervention has led to the exhaustion of the area’s only freshwater source, forcing a tightly rationed system on citizens, seen here in photographs by Daniel Roca, a freelance photographer.
The works of Dundas and Roca are a striking reminder that the continued negligence of those who overuse water—whether through waste, pollution, or mismanagement—sentences one fifth of the world’s seven billion people to disease, labor, poverty and missed opportunities.
We clean with it and cook with it, drink it and flush it away. And an average American family of four uses 400 gallons of it each day. But for the 1.2 billion people lacking access to it, clean drinking water is a precious and often unattainable commodity.
Experts divide water scarcity into two categories. The first, physical water scarcity, applies to cases where the necessary water supply simply isn’t enough to meet demand, like in areas affected by desertification or overpopulation. Instances when water is in fact abundant but unfit for human consumption—most often due to pollution, eutrophication, and salinization—are considered economic water scarcity.
Sub-Saharan Africa faces unique challenges
But no matter its cause, lack of water security drains communities’ resources, forcing them to exhaust financial and human capital in pursuit of safe water. Hours spent carrying 40 lb. jerry cans of water or lost to sickness can be hours spent in a classroom learning to read and write, to breaking a circle of poverty fueled by inadequate access to clean water and sanitation. Water scarcity largely characterizes areas afflicted by poverty. But with it comes a host of additional problems, such as increased disease and decreased agricultural development, which in turn decreases societies’ productivity.
“Water scarcity is both a cause and a consequence of poverty,” says Daniela Peis, a program funding officer for the International Water and Sanitation Centre.
African people die from diseases every hour linked to poor sanitation and contaminated water. By 2025, the World Bank projects that at least half of the countries expected to face water shortages will be African, with 48% of Africans living in either water-scarce or water-stressed areas.
Nowhere are the devastating conditions inflicted by lack of water access more pronounced than in Sub-Saharan Africa, a crossroads of political instability, widespread poverty, and extreme climate. According to the World Bank, only 58% of its population had access to safe drinking water in 2005, and 115
This all comes at a cost not only to individuals but to the continent’s overall wealth. Annually, 5% of Africa’s GDP is lost as a direct result of poor water sanitation and infrastructure. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, each year citizens spend 40 billion hours collecting water, the equivalent of a year’s worth of labor by France’s entire workforce.
While in other areas of the world a few specific and thus more manageable factors affect water insecurity, Africa faces a multitude of both man-made and natural challenges. Although the continent’s annual rainfall is comparable to that in temperate regions like Europe, higher evaporation rates mean precipitation replenishes only 20% of renewable water sources. Additionally, receding wetlands, salinization caused by over-pumping, industrial and agricultural waste, and the eutrophication of lakes choked by invasive plant species pollute above-ground freshwater, suggesting the continent’s water scarcity problem is an economic, not physical one.
Africa boasts 17 major rivers and over 160 large lakes. A recent study by the British Geological Survey estimates that total groundwater storage in Africa is as much as 660,000 km3, almost 30 times the total volume of North America’s Great Lakes, the Earth’s largest freshwater body. “Largely, it’s an issue of development and exploitation, not natural environmental conditions,” says Mohamed El Azizi, director of the African Development Bank Group’s water and sanitation department. “We have the resources but not the tools and ability, and so they go unutilized.”
The U.N. estimates that Africa’s three major water consumers—agriculture, communities, and industry—tap into just 3.8% of total annual renewable resources. This figure underscores the underlying problems afflicting Africa: infrastructure, development, and government cooperation, not supply.
Distribution, not availability, is the problem
Of these the most crucial obstacle hindering Africa from becoming water secure may just be Africans themselves. Characterized by a strained and tangled web of relationships among its 47 countries, the continent’s political atmosphere poses difficulty in coordinating regional responses. The Nile River basin alone encompasses ten countries, and 80 of the continent’s rivers cross international boundaries. Nearly every country shares water resources with at least one other, but many, like Guinea which is intersected by 12 international rivers, share multiple.
“National interests outweigh shared interests,” says Azizi. “With water scarcity projected to increase in the coming years, many expect political conflicts to intensify as well.”
With potential for magnified conflict, an opportunity for international cooperation among countries arises as well, and with a handful of such successful models already paving the way, teamwork may just be the likelier outcome. Thirteen countries in the Southern African Development Community region have ratified a Protocol on Shared Watercourse Systems to “improve cooperation to promote sustainable and coordinated management, protection, and utilisation of transboundary watercourses.” Other similar albeit smaller programs like the Nile Basin Initiative, the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, and the Kornati Basin Project signal the potential for partnership as the norm rather than the exception.
“Solving a problem of such epic proportions would require an equally tremendous investment,” says Patrick Alubbe, regional director in east Africa for the nonprofit Water.org. “A sustainable, economic, and reliable system [in Africa] isn’t just a matter of building a well but of providing infrastructure that accounts for the future and is adaptable to climate change as well as economic and population growth.”
Putting in place the necessary infrastructure to supply Africa with adequate water access would demand an annual contribution of $50 billion for the next 20 years and an additional $30 billion annually for the 30 years following that. However, considering the World Health Organization’s estimate that for every $1 invested in water and sanitation brings an economic return of upwards of $34, water scarcity may just be a problem worth solving, one with the possibility of immense returns in not just economic but human capital.
Bangladesh/Garment Industry: Article
On April 24, 2013, thousands of Bangladeshi workers filed inside an eight-story complex of garment factories, small shops, and apartments. The fractured structure, its cracks and defects prompting authorities to indefinitely prohibit its occupation just the day before, succumbed to the increasing weight of factory workers filing in for their morning shift. At 8:57 a.m., followed instantly by the collapse of its top floors, the rest of the building buckled. Less than a minute later, a mountain of rubble and brick lay where Rana Plaza minutes ago had stood, killing over a thousand people and injuring another twenty-five hundred.
But the accident, the deadliest in the history of the garment industry, was only unique in its magnitude. The factors contributing to it—disregard for workers’ rights, sweatshop conditions, and negligence fueled by a focus on profit by global fashion giants—prevail throughout a sector industry experts valued at $1.7 trillion in 2012.
The Bangladesh Garment Industry
Today the garment industry employs 40% of Bangladesh’s population and accounts for 80% of its export revenue. The country’s beginnings as a garment manufacturing giant trace back to 1974. That year, legislation of the worldwide textile and garment industries established an export quota system. Manufacturing leaders like South Korea, their domestic output limited by quota caps, began “quota hopping” to unregulated markets like that in Bangladesh where, that same year, a revolution drove public policy away from socialist ideals and toward privatization. By 1980, the garment industry had become Bangladesh’s main source of trade revenue and employment, a position it has continued to hold to this day.
The country’s cheap labor and low production costs draw producers from around the globe with guarantees of a high profit margin. Manufacturing a shirt costs just $0.11 in Bangladesh, the world’s lowest unit labor cost. But since the Rana Plaza collapse, the industry has suffered severe criticism for what many consider its practices of modern-day slavery.
“You have systematic abuse of an uneducated workforce who have no other viable option,” said Ineke Zeldenrust of the Clean Clothes Campaign, a workers’ rights advocacy group. “[The collapse] shocked people, made them think of the human toll behind profits.”
Although Bangladesh houses 5,600 other garment factories, it lacks a comprehensive inspection system. Regulatory bodies are divided among a number of independent agencies, making enforcement of safety and labor codes difficult and susceptible to corruption. This negligence can result in deadly consequences as it did with the Rana Plaza building, the top four floors of which were constructed without a permit. The building as a whole was authorized only to house apartments and small businesses, not multiple factories.
“The disorganization [allows for] workers elbow-to-elbow jammed in over-capacity, filthy buildings cluttered with machinery and supplies, few exits, improper ventilation,” describes Bent Gehrt of the Workers Rights Consortium. “It’s a wonder something like [the Rana Plaza collapse] doesn’t happen daily.”
Aasdfasdft each stage of garment production, workers face a multitude of threats to their safety and health. The manufacture of a single shirt first requires thousands of yards of fabric to be chemically treated with dyes and sealants, exposing workers to carcinogens such as potassium dichromate, tanning acid, and formaldehyde. From there, material must be cut and sewn using industrial machinery which can snag hair, pierce fingers, and cause fires. Many garment workers suffer from “brown lung,” a chronic respiratory disease caused by inhalation of cotton dust. Formally known as byssinosis, it’s marked by asthma-like symptoms and long-term reduced lung function.
Victims of the Global Fashion Industry
As fashion’s true victims, they endure a disproportionately high-level of risk for pay. Government mandated minimum wage for garment industry workers in Bangladesh is just above $66 a month, the lowest rate in the world. Additionally, loosely enforced regulation means factory owners cheat the majority of workers. A 1998 survey showed that 73% of females employed in Bangladesh garment factories (over 80% of the sector’s labor force) bring back earnings well below minimum wage, compared to 15% of their male counterparts.
High-profile brands like the Children’s Place, WalMart, Benetton, and Mango were among the 29 fashion companies connected to the Rana Plaza collapse, their involvement igniting a frenzy of worldwide disapproval. The intense scrutiny put unprecedented pressure on the fashion industry as consumers questioned the true costs behind the price tags. This posed a paradox for the sector: keep manufacturing in Bangladesh and invest in improved conditions or face a public relations disaster by transferring production to other countries.
Some parties involved chose the former, responding to the accident with donations for worker compensation funds and widespread efforts dedicated to improving worker safety. Today, one-third of the Bangladeshi textile industry has signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a five-year legally binding agreement between labor organizations, NGOs, and fashion retailers. “It’s an agreement inclusive of workers and the industry,” says Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch. “The goal is to bridge that divide, setting up a balanced relationship that can become the standard for the industry.”
He acknowledges the global nature of today’s apparel market makes coordination and navigating shared interests difficult, but the Bangladeshi representatives who’ve joined the Accord—which requires a pledge to maintain minimum safety standards, enforced inspections, and establishing funds for factories to update facilities—are already taking steps in a better direction.
At a cost of as much as $500,000 per factory, ensuring fair wages and a safe working environment no doubt comes at a price. But for multinational corporations like WalMart, whose annual net sales are more than four times greater than the entire gross domestic product of Bangladesh, the financial cost is much lower than the costs in human lives and negative publicity if these changes were not made.
For more information:
Clean Clothes Campaign:
Human Rights Watch:
Workers Rights Consortium:
Matt Black is an American photographer who grew up in California’s Central Valley. His work primarily revolves around documenting food, farming and the human relationship to the land in that area. SDN’s Caterina Clerici talked to him about the work recently exhibited at his first solo show in New York at Anastasia Photo gallery, his ongoing ‘Geography of Poverty’ project on Instagram, and what it means to work on life-long projects.
Caterina Clerici: Let’s start with your recent exhibition at Anastasia Photo gallery in New York, “From Clouds to Dust” which brings together two twin documentary projects of yours, “The Kingdom of Dust” and “The People of Clouds.” The first embodies part of your multi-year work chronicling contemporary farming life in California’s Central Valley, while in “The People of Clouds” you document the disappearance of farming culture and the indigenous communities dependent on it in Mixteca, a region in southern Mexico. What’s the link between the two projects?
Matt Black: The work exhibited at Anastasia puts together two different projects, but it’s a continuum to me as a photographer. My professional life started in the Central Valley, then followed the route taken by the immigrant field workers but in reverse, back to their home towns in Mexico, and then took me back here to California. Also, both projects focus on the issues I’ve always been interested in exploring: labor, migration, food, farming. The work is about the human connection to the environment, about the community, and its land.
CC: You graduated from San Francisco University with a degree in Latin American and US labor history. How did the transition to becoming a photographer happen?
MB: I never really wanted to be a “professional photographer.” Photography has been a way to engage on these topics, to explore communities and the issues they’re facing. I don’t see photography as an end per se, but as a means of engaging, communicating what you’re trying to say… and you have to know what you’re saying with your photography.
CC: How does the fact that you’re so familiar with the area and the issues you’ve been documenting for decades affect your photography and help in that sense?
MB: There is a strong connection between myself and what I photograph. You have to have that. If I didn’t have that connection, I wouldn’t feel like I had anything particularly interesting to say about a topic. If the issue is something dear to me, like the drought in Central Valley in California in this case, then I know I do have something to say.
CC: What led you to take that leap from California to Mexico?
MB: The issues I’ve been exploring in Mexico are very similar to the ones I’ve been documenting for so long back home. In the mid-1990s, while I was working in California more and more workers were migrating there from Mexico. I started asking myself. “Why? Why are they coming? What’s forcing them out?” So in 2000 I went to Mexico to see what was happening there and over time I’ve watched the impact of this migration grow. I saw that the towns were disappearing: no one was left except for the youngest and the oldest. So, “Why do people migrate?” was always the core question behind the project.
CC: What struck you the most when you were working in Mexico?
MB: These towns are dying, and it’s just incredibly sad. As a photographer, I think what’s most humbling to me was that many of the people are so happy to see that an outsider understands and cares. It’s easy to think that “raising awareness” has become a naïve idea, but most places I go I’m the only photographer. So that’s what makes me think that doing it is important. Because I know what is going on, I feel responsible to be there.
CC: Back to the Central Valley: how did the “California: Paradise Burning” project you and Ed Kashi did for the New Yorker come about?
MB: Ed contacted me to talk about the situation in the Central Valley, and it became clear that we should do something together. I was shooting stills, and he did the video. It’s incredible how photos, video and audio can work together… all avenues are being employed to tell the story and that makes it very strong.
CC: You’ve recently decided to include Instagram among the many avenues to pursue your documentary work. Why did you start using it?
MB: I had been interested in the idea of mapping photographs for a while and when I looked at Instagram for the first time—not very long ago actually [laughs] —I saw it had a map built in and thought, “That’s the coolest thing!” So, the “Geography of Poverty” project was basically built around that part of the application. You see a picture, you see a community, and you see where it’s on the map. It can be very powerful and people connect to the image in a different way. Even people who will never go to these places can instantly place them on a map and that makes them more real.
CC: What do you think is the most significant aspect of your work as a documentary photographer and can Instagram or other innovations in the field make it better?
MB: I think the most important aspect of my work is the long period of engagement with a place and these issues. Then something like a drought happens and it shows how everything can change, how it is all so fragile. With my work I can help focus attention on some of the issues, and Instagram and other new media definitely help. I try to use my voice to keep these places in front of people’s eyes. Especially in California, I know these towns and I care about them, and I go because I feel it’s my duty to be there. It’s my job to do it.
ZEKE is published by Social Documentary Network (SDN), an organization promoting visual storytelling about global themes. Started as a website in 2008, today SDN works with nearly a thousand photographers around the world to tell important stories through the visual medium of photography and multimedia. Since 2008, SDN has featured more than 2,000 exhibits on its website and has had gallery exhibitions in major cities around the world. All the work featured in ZEKE first appeared on the SDN website, www.socialdocumentary.net.
Spring 2015 Vol. 1/No. 1
Executive Editor: Glenn Ruga
Writer: Paula Sokolska
Copy Editor: Barbara Ayotte
Proofreader: Matthew Lomanno
Social Documentary Network Advisory Committee
Barbara Ayotte, Medford, MA
Director of Strategic Communications
Management Sciences for Health
Kristen Bernard, Salem, MA
Marketing Web Director
EBSCO Information Services
Lori Grinker, New York, NY
Independent Photographer and Educator
Steve Horn, Lopez Island, WA
Ed Kashi, Montclair, NJ
Member of VII photo agency
Photographer, Filmmaker, Educator
Reza, Paris, France
Photographer and Humanist
Jeffrey D. Smith, New York NY
Contact Press Images
Steve Walker, New York, NY
Consultant and educator
Frank Ward, Williamsburg, MA
Photographer and Educator
Jamie Wellford, Brooklyn, NY
Photo Editor, Curator
ZEKE is published twice a year by Social Documentary Network
Copyright © 2015
Social Documentary Network
Print ISSN 2381-1390
Digital ISSN: Forthcoming
ZEKE does not accept unsolicited submissions. To be considered for publication in ZEKE, submit your work to the SDN website either as a standard exhibit or a submission to a Call for Entries. Contributing photographers can choose to pay a fee for their work to be exhibted on SDN for a year or they can choose a free trial. Free trials have the same opportunity to be published in ZEKE as paid exhibits.
Cover photo: Dario De Dominicis from The Favela Hill on SDN.