Try to reconcile these numbers: one billion people go to bed hungry every night, yet Americans and Europeans throw away half of all food they purchase uneaten. And while African countries have entered wars over water, up to 60% of the global supply is lost to dripping faucets and leaky pipes every year.
We live in a world of strange extremes. The growing demand for natural resources, paired with great scarcity and waste, means that by 2030 we’ll need another planet to supply it.
With so much at stake, photography is one way to draw attention to and stimulate conversation around these challenges. At least that’s the goal of the Syngenta Photography Award, whose theme this year was “Scarcity-Waste.” On Tuesday, a panel chaired by curator William A. Ewing officially announced the winners, whose work is now on view at London’s Somerset House along with that of 40 other photographers.
Berlin-based American photographer Mustafah Abdulaz took first place in the Professional Commission category with an image from his Water series, which looks at the impact of the water crisis on people living in India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Sierra Leone. German photographer Benedikt Partenheim won the Open Competition for his photograph capturing the haze over the pollution-choked city of Shiziazhuang, China. “What use is economic prosperity and wealth if people have to live in cities where they cannot breathe and where children cannot play outside?” he asked in an artist’s statement.
Though the competition only had two winners, many of its entries were incredibly powerful. Finalist Stefano De Luigi photographed the effects of the Kenyan drought in the country’s Turkana region, describing one scene of women struggling to gather water as a “nightmarish vision … a warning to consider our way of life differently, out of respect for all kinds of life on earth.” For his entry, Rasel Chowdhury recorded what remains of Dhaka City’s endangered Buriganga River. “[It] once blessed us with hopes and dreams of building a new city, but today, the city itself is causing the death of the Buriganga,” he wrote.
Looking at the rest of this year’s images, my own status as a person living in abundance — one prone to waste — grows painfully obvious. How many times have I thrown out rotting veggies or let the faucet run as I brushed my teeth? As “Scarcity-Waste” makes clear, the cause and effect nature of the problem implicates many of us. We can’t easily brush it away.
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