Jakarta, Indonesia: a child is balancing on a slab of concrete just big enough to step on. His balance is precarious; the boy might fall off at any moment. All around him, water: it floods the entire road, transforming the houses lining it into boats. The long dike to our left seems pointless. It is one of the walls the Indonesian government has been building to ward off the rising waters. Because of groundwater extraction, the city is sinking. North Jakarta is sinking up to 10 inches per year, even as the sea level is rising. Millions of people are at risk. If nothing is done, parts of Jakarta will be under water by 2050.
In addition to a photo collection, which is the core of the book, Kadir van Lohuizen brings together texts, maps, and graphs, offering an in-depth analysis of the consequences of the melting of the ice caps and the rise of the sea level on territories and populations. This book is a wake-up call. It sounds the alarm on an imminent danger.
Showing the hidden threat
How does one picture a phenomenon that may not yet be visible? Kadir van Lohuizen, a great photojournalist and member of the photo agancey NOOR, wants to show that the biblical reference to the deluge hides a real emergency. “Normally, as a photographer, you play with the light. For this project, I worked with the tides. You have to work on a very precise schedule to photograph during the high tide. I also quickly realized that you could see much more from the air than at the ground level.” As he explains, many of the photographs were taken from a bird’s eye view, sometimes with the help of a kite which supported his camera.
The photographer has crisscrossed the world. Since 2011, he has traveled to Greenland, the United States, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Panama, and his native Netherlands, in an effort to illustrate and understand the phenomenon. Water is his main subject. The book’s journey begins in Greenland, a land of ice where scientists are studying the melting of the ice caps and how it impacts sea levels, while the inhabitants are watching the global warming and trying to adapt. But there are carefree moments, too, like in Miami, with its beaches, its parties, its jet set… According to estimates, by 2060 the city will be under water.
In one photo Kadir van Lohuizen took in the streets of a city in the Southeastern United States, a worker is climbing out of a manhole. Only his head is above water. The scene is almost absurd. With his coworker, he is trying to unclog the sewage pipes, but realizes it’s all sea water. “In the United States, people are oblivious. But in Bangladesh or the Pacific regions inhabitants are keenly aware of the danger. They are paying the price even though they don’t emit any greenhouse gases, in contrast to the Western world,” comments Kadir van Lohuizen.
Millions of displaced people
Bangladesh is perhaps one of the countries most threatened by the coming deluge. Within the next few decades, the rising waters could force some 50 million people to relocate. Kadir van Lohuizen paints a portrait of these men and women, a nation of fishermen for whom water is both their livelihood and their worst enemy. In Panama, he met with families who had to abandon their island, such as Norberto Hernandez, his wife Olga, and their children and grandchildren: one of the daughters gravely gazes ahead as if she were scanning the horizon for a brighter future. The government has launched an evacuation plan for four of the 300 islands that make up the Guna Yala Archipelago, which sits in the path of floods and tsunamis. Sometimes it is hard to get families attached to their culture and their land to leave the islands.
The book ends with a focus on the Netherlands, the photographer’s home. The country has been struggling with the rising sea levels for decades. Will one of the most advanced system of dikes in the world be enough to fend off the disaster? A rise of 6 to 10 feet would force the inhabitants of Amsterdam and Rotterdam out of their homes… In his photos of landscapes, of the open seas, and his portraits, Kadir van Lohuizen shows not only the geographical consequences of the rising sea levels but also the human dimension of this imminent threat: large-scale displacement of populations, the disappearance of huge swathes of land. “I would like to be optimistic, but it is impossible, given what I’ve seen,” admits the photographer, insisting on the immediate urgency of the phenomenon and the lack of action on the part of the authorities.
By Michaël Naulin
Michaël Naulin is a journalist. Having worked for regional and national press, he is above all passionate about photography and, more specifically, about photo reporting.
Kadir van Lohuizen, After Us the Deluge: The Human Consequences of Rising Sea Levels, € 45, 288 pp. The book is available here.