“A victory after an 11-year long wait is the kind of victory that makes you feel content, liberated and triumphant.”
K M Asad from Bangladesh, now best known as an independent photographer, and a popular photojournalist at Zuma Press news agency and a contributor to Getty Images, is overjoyed. His photograph has won the third place in World Press Photo contest 2021 in the ‘Environment’ category.
What is the significance of World Press Photo?
World Press Photo Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization based in Amsterdam, Netherlands, which was founded in the year 1955. It has organized a separate annual contest for journalistic multimedia productions since 2011, in association with Human Rights Watch, the annual Tim Hetherington Grant.
The organization aims to support professional photojournalism on a wide international scale through the World Press Photo Academy. The photographs that win the prizes are assembled into a travelling exhibition, after the awards ceremony. Annually, a yearbook presenting the prizewinning entries is published in six languages.
K M Asad’s photograph
Speaking with Platocast, a gleeful Asad says: “This is a great honour. Thousands of photographers participate in the contest every year and I have been trying to make my place here since 2010. My determination and perseverance finally bore fruit.”
Asad’s photograph is one of a kind. It shows a woman drawing drinking water from a cloth set out to catch rainwater, in the village of Kalabogi, in the Sundarbans mangrove forest, Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh, on September 27.
“I started looking for places that are mostly unexplored, to capture a moment that has not been captured before,” says K M Asad. “Due to increasing salinity in the groundwater, and of the river Satkhira, people living in Kalabogi and the Sundarbans region suffer from a water shortage in the dry season. The increase in salinity is caused by rising sea levels.”
To avoid frequent tidal flooding, the houses in the region are raised on poles. As per a 2016 World Bank report, among other threats that the climate crisis poses to the Sundarbans are rising sea levels and the frequency and intensity of storms. The sea has been advancing by 200 meters a year in parts of the region, satellites have found.
According to academic studies, an estimated 20 million people living along the Bangladesh coast are affected by salinity in drinking water.
“I went to Bangladesh and met this group of people which lives off mostly natural resources in the region. I clicked a number of photographs, captured various moments, but something that struck me the most is when I saw a woman drawing drinking water from a cloth used to catch rainwater. I learnt how they are suffering from water shortage as a result of increasing salinity in natural water,” says Asad.
“Salinity has drastically impacted these coastal regions, reducing soil productivity and vegetation growth. The environment is gradually degrading and people are struggling to earn a livelihood,” he adds.
What further contributes to groundwater salinity and soil degradation is the conversion of rice paddies and cultivable land to shrimp farms.
“It is easier to talk and write about the climate crisis than it is to capture a moment that shows its devastating effects. This is an important photograph because I believe it will help raise awareness on the plight of these people in Bangladesh, and I hope some action will be taken to help them earn a livelihood in an easier, smoother way,” says Asad.
Some other photos taken by Asad in and around Kalabogi:
Asad, Born in 1983, is passionate about photography and believes in sparking change through his photos. His work on the Rohingya refugees is known and appreciated worldwide. Over the years, his works have found a place in the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts (KMOPA) in Japan.
Note: Images attached in this article cannot be used without the photographer’s permission.