A man walks amongst the dunes of the Tennger desert, near the Shapotou desert resort in Ningxia Province.
A severe sandstorm in central Ningxia province shrouds the land in a surreal yellow, almost orange, light. The already dry and degraded topsoil is easily picked up when the spring winds start to blow.
A sandstorm disrupts local life in Ningxia Province.
A painting of traditional Inner Mongolian life hangs in the living room of farmers on the Inner Mongolian steppes. This traditional life disappeared in the 1980s.
Faint glimpses of traditional life on the grasslands remain as a tourist in traditional dress adjusts her clothing.
A woman protects herself from the airborne sand which has descended on the town of Minfeng in Xinjiang province. The town’s proximity to the Taklamakan desrt means it is regularly bombarded by sandstorms.
A small market next to a dried-up river in Xinjiang Province, western China.
Fish on sale in a small market in the town of Hongsibao in Ningxia Province, central China.
A young boy in the town of Hongsibao, a community that was built in the desert to rehouse refugees relocated from nearby land affected by increasing desertification
The banks of a reservoir in Minqin County, Gansu Province.
A worker sleeps amongst the sand dunes and forest at the Shapotou desert resort in Ningxia Province.
Human remains scatter the floor in the abandoned city of Yinpan, a result of a combination of natural erosion revealing graves and disturbance by tomb-robbers.
A tractor drives through dry and barren lands in Gansu Province, China.
A man pushes his bicycle through a severe sandstorm on the outskirts of the town of Hongsibao, in Ningxia Province.
A farmer brings in his cattle at sunrise on the Inner Mongolian steppes. Due to new regulations, the farmers of the region are now not allowed to graze their cattle, although many risk prosecution and graze their cattle at night, under the cover of darkness.
A construction crew working in a sandstorm in Ningxia Province.
Dead poplar trees stand on the edge of the Taklamakan desert in China’s western Xinjiang Province.
A mural on a wall in the deserts of western Inner Mongolia.
Smoke bellows from a lone factory in the deserts of western Inner Mongolia.
Visibility during a sandstorm in Ningxia Province is reduced to all but a couple of hundred meters.
17th June marks the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. This is a topic I have spent much time covering during my career, most notably in my two projects ‘Desertification in China‘ and ‘The Broken Land: Drought in India” which was a short film and photo-essay.
As outlined by the UN‘s website: “Desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas. It is caused primarily by human activities and climatic variations. Desertification does not refer to the expansion of existing deserts. It occurs because dryland ecosystems, which cover over one third of the world‘s land area, are extremely vulnerable to overexploitation and inappropriate land use. Poverty, political instability, deforestation, overgrazing and bad irrigation practices can all undermine the productivity of the land.” It continues, “Over 250 million people are directly affected by desertification, and about one billion people in over one hundred countries are at risk. These people include many of the world‘s poorest, most marginalized and politically weak citizens.”
The effects of drought, and especially desertification, are some of the most underreported environmental issues however their mechanics are essential to understanding the implications of climate change on a local and global level. This is part of the reason that the UN’s World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought is observed, to raise awareness and bring attention to those communities being affected hardest by these issues.
In 2009, I set off on a 2-month journey across the breadth of China with the aim of documenting the implications of increasing desertification and its effects on the people and landscapes of the country. What I witnessed surprised and shocked me. Ecological migrants, abandoned cities and colossal sandstorms were just some of the phenomena I witnessed. I discovered parts of the country gripped in a battle against the slowly expanding deserts, forcing people to fly their lands and find new ways to a changing climate. This work has gone on to be featured in numerous international news outlets over the years which has hopefully contributed to the general awareness about this issue in China and the similar effects desertification has on many other countries across the world.
In the summer of 2016, parts of India experienced record drought as a result of consecutive failed monsoons. Global temperature records were broken each month in 2016 and India itself recorded its highest temperature of 51C. In conjunction with El Nino effects, this caused extreme environmental stresses in large parts of the country.
A farmer walks by a tree in the middle of drought-stricken farmland near the town of Latur, in western India.
A farmer (bottom-centre) walks across vast swathes of drought-stricken fields near the city of Latur in the Indian state of Maharashtra.
The ribs of an emaciated cow in a ‘cattle camp’ near the town of Latur, in western India. Hundreds of these camps have been set up across the region by the government to provide fodder and water to the cattle of local farmers who have been hit hardest by the drought.
A woman watches over her goats which graze on dry grass in drought-stricken fields near the city of Latur.
Young children play near dried up fields in the village of Sayyad Ankulga, near the city of Latur.
A bird flies underneath a bridge that passes over a dried up river bed near the city of Latur. Almost all major bodies of water, including rivers and lakes, have dried up in the region.
A group of young men walk across barren farmland near the city of Latur.
A young girl collects water from a small tap outside a hospital in the city of Latur. Many residents of the city are without water however those that have access often supply their excess to others for free.
A man prepares to pick up a container full of water that he has just filled from freshly delivered government water trucks. The trucks visit many of the city’s communities delivering water to those in need. Crowds regularly develop and arguments often ensue as the city’s desperate residents make sure they receive enough water.
A boy tries desperately to squeeze water out of a pump on the streets of Latur, in western India. Many wells have run dry and the city’s residents are largely reliant on water that is being transported by train from the west coast of the country.
Women carry pots full of water through dried up fields outside the village of Sayyad Ankulga. Only two bore wells now operate near the village, the closest one being over 1 kilometre away from the village centre, forcing villagers to walk through the intense heat multiple times a day to collect water.
As a result of the drought and limited availability of water, commercial enterprises are thriving, making a profit from those who can afford to pay for extra water.
A woman carries recently collected twigs and branches that will be used for firewood in her village. Deforestation and excessive exploitation of forest resources have been blamed as a contributing factor to the recent severe drought in western India.
Lake Kava, the largest body of water close to the city of Latur has dried up completely. Locals are now digging up the soil at the bottom of the former lake, as it contains remnants of moisture that can be used on their farms nearby. This activity also serves to deepen the lake bed so that more water can be retained when the monsoon arrives in late June.
A bird stands on a drought-stricken field near the city of Latur.
A young boy carries a bucket full of cut sugar cane in a cattle camp near the town of Latur. Sugar cane has been blamed by many for being one of the factors contributing to drought conditions in the region as it requires high amounts of water during its growth. Failed rains have left farmers unable to grow this profitable crop, leaving many in financial trouble.
A girl carries sugar cane in a cattle camp near the town of Latur. Sugar cane has been blamed by many for being one of the factors contributing to drought conditions in the region as it requires high amounts of water during its growth. Failed rains have left farmers unable to grow this profitable crop, leaving many in financial trouble.
A woman washes her family’s clothes outside her home in a district of Latur. As a result of the very limited supplies of water, people have been forced to change their daily routines, often reducing the numbers of times they wash their clothes each week.
Men have a wash in a trough at the Latur train station. With a very limited supply of water, residents of the city are forced to reduce the number of times they wash and clean.
A man drinks water from a bottle near government water trucks which deliver water to Latur’s residents. The trucks often run throughout the day and into the night however many communities do not receive enough water and are forced to travel to government water facilities to retrieve more water themselves.
A man walks across the top of the ‘water train’ of Latur which delivers millions of litres of water to the city from over 200 miles away in the west of the country. Even with the train arriving each day to replenish government water stores, it is still not enough to supply water to all of Latur’s half a million residents.
A farmer ploughs his arid fields during the drought near the city of Latur.
Villagers mill around in the farming community of Sayyad Ankulga, near Latur. As a result of the drought, many farmer’s crops have failed and with no access to water nearby are forced to wait until the monsoon rains arrive in late June.
Villagers in the community of Sayyad Ankulga play cricket on the bed of a dried out lake near their village. Their’s is one of thousands of villages that have been badly affected by the current drougb in Maharashtra.
A woman’s shadow falls behind a queue of pots, laid out by residents of the city of Latur, to collect water from a nearby tap which is distributing water for free to local residents.
A woman walks through a camp in Mumbai that has been setup to receive environmental migrants who have fled drought-affected regions in the state of Maharashtra. Living in squalid conditions, the migrants are supplied with basic amounts of water with most working in the city as day labourers to make ends meet for themselves and their families.
I made the decision to travel to the city of Latur, in the state of Maharashtra, identified as the country’s worst affected area where up to 15,000 villages were believed to be without water. The images and video I created there focused on how communities lives were being affected by the drought, documenting the long and dangerous journeys people were taking to find water, the stresses placed on farmers and the physical environmental stresses on the region. To be there at that time and witness the devastating effects of drought had a deep effect on me. Drought doesn’t often affect us living in the major cities of the developed world, but for those in the tropics especially in developing nations, the effects are very real indeed.
As global temperatures continue to rise, the record drought of 2016 is predicted to be a recurring event in a country that is struggling to adapt to a warming world. Desertification is a continued threat and affects countries on all continents. Awareness about this issue is the first step towards effective action that mitigates the devastating impacts of water scarcity.
Support and share the news of this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought to contribute to the first step of raising awareness about the severity of this global issue.