China and India's race to fulfil hydroelectric dreams has seen over 150 dams planned for River Brahmaputra and its tributaries - and this number is just from India alone. The 2,900 kilometre river, which runs through China, India and Bangladesh, is at the epicentre of flash floods, environmental degradation and loss of livelihoods, borne by rural villagers and their homes which stand in the way of meeting energy demands.
The case of Brahmaputra isn't unique - and the global nature of these water issues is what French photographer Franck Vogel wants us to realise. The Asian premiere of his photography exhibition, Transboundary Rivers, presents stories of the Nile in Egypt, the Brahmaputra in India and the Colorado in the United States, three rivers each with their own sets of problems.
Franck is renowned for his coverage of social and environmental issues, from the Bishnois people in India - who dedicate themselves to protecting wildlife and the environment - to albinos in Tanzania who are persecuted by their societies. Franck was inspired to embark on his most recent Transboundary Rivers project in 2012 after investigating issues concerning the contentious Millennium Dam project on the Nile. "I realised that the global freshwater situation has reached a critical point and that it needs immediate attention and action," says Franck. Apart from the rivers featured in the Singapore exhibition, he has also travelled to Jordan, whose water is shared (or rather, fought) between Israel, Jordan and Palestine.
Check out Asian Geographic Issue 3/2016
Article by Franck Vogel
We live on a planet that appears, at first glance, to be binary in nature. There is land, and there is sea. The continents are the inverse of the ocean. The land stands out on the map as dry earth clearly divided from blue water. Yet the coast is as diverse as it is variable. Let’s explore the edge of Asia, and use the power of imagination to conduct a long transect of this transitional zone. We’ll travel overland from the mountains to the beach, and along the way appreciate the diversity of the coastal terrain. We’ll splash in the waves at the tide line, and then explore the shallow waters of the continental shelf. We’ll move out into deeper water, as well, and pause at the true edge of the continent. Observing the changes there, we’ll then descend into the abyss, and beyond the edge to new realms of strange biologies and hidden geology.
Change Is Constant
The coastline, or the littoral zone, changes constantly and rhythmically with the tides, ominously with the melting polar ice caps, and catastrophically with tsunamis. The coastline that we recognise on our maps is only an averaged observation of current conditions. The outlines of dry land have always been in perpetual motion. Tectonic plates drift and land masses move, glaciers freeze and melt, and the amount of water in the oceans changes. River delta sediments settle and subside, and volcanic regions spill forth material from deep within the Earth. Reconstructions of past global geography have been pieced together by geologists and geomorphologists – these maps show a curiously familiar set of continents. On the other hand, if you left the planet and returned in a thousand years, you would observe yet another altered configuration of water and land.
Our Journey Begins
We find ourselves in the uplands of the continent. The Earth’s highest altitudes come close to 9,000 metres above the (historical) average sea level. Coincidentally, the atmosphere at this level is about the thinnest at which there is sufficient oxygen to support human life. We’ll then travel down, towards the Earth’s core. Following the path of a raindrop, we spill down cliff lines, race down mountain streams, and then meander our way along the course of the river to approach the coastline of Asia.
The coastline is graced by sandy beaches, pierced by outflowing rivers and emboldened by sheer cliffs. It has been altered by urbanisation, cut by gorges, and enlivened with mangroves. It stands out at capes and promontories, and falls inward at bays and harbours.