PRIVATE 45, DEVELOPMENT. An Ecological Question[O]ur planet is in crisis; a crisis captured through this collection of photo essays taken by world-class photographers. It tells a story of environmental degradation and gives a voice to some of the forgotten peoples who are paying the price. This issue of PRIVATE takes us on a journey across the world, highlighting the human and environmental costs of “development” from our rivers and land to the skies above us.
The beauty of our planet and the tragedy that befalls it are captured in breathtaking images of the Greenland ice-sheet, where the ice is melting faster than it is freezing, because of climate change. Thousands of miles away in the Amazon rainforest, powerful images show us the stark impacts of one of the severest droughts in history. Drought is also a theme in an essay cataloguing the magnificence of Australia’s Murray-Darling River system, and the disastrous effects that years of mismanagement have had upon it.
Victims, survivors and activists fighting for environmental justice are present in many images. At the Russia-China border, on the banks of the Amur River, we witness the grim daily reality for people whose livelihoods have been destroyed by a petrochemical plant explosion. Another essay draws us into the utter desolation of the once mighty Aral Sea – ruined by overexploitation and toxic pollutants. In the Ukraine, more than 20 years after the disaster, we see the deadly legacy of Chernobyl; the worst nuclear accident in history – a timely reminder of the true cost of nuclear power. In France, we visit the Vere valley – known as “death valley” – where funerals are held every week for those who die from asbestos poisoning.
The daily human cost of China’s economic growth – of migration, poisoned rivers, lost livelihoods and destitution – are captured in another collection. So too are the survivors who eke out a living among the dumpsters of Guatemala City. In Cairo, we see how rubbish collectors make their homes out of garbage; they are close to, but hidden from, the city’s tourist attractions. In the Dominican Republic the invisible slave trade that brings us our sugar is finally brought to light. Forced labourers work just behind the country’s luxury resorts; concealed by an impenetrable wall of sugar cane.
The dangers of short-term thinking in humanitarian crises are shown in images of earthquake victims in Peru, and of starving children in a recent, barely reported, famine in Ethiopia. Pictures showing the thousands displaced by a dam in Laos demonstrate the real price of mass “development” projects. And, in India we travel to the Narmada valley and river to see those fighting to protect their precious resources from another dam project, one that can only bring ecological and humanitarian catastrophe.
This collection shocks and stuns. An urgent message is carried through these images: that environmental degradation is not someone else’s problem. This is our shared Earth and it is our collective responsibility to protect it. It is not too late, but we must act now to change our relationship with nature from one of overexploitation and greed to one of respect and preservation. Only then can we save our planet – and ultimately ourselves.
(by Jo Kuper)