For the past ten years, Kadir van Lohuizen has been using photography to try to document climate problems and review its meaning for the future. Since the informal meeting in Panama during the reporting process, the Dutch photographer has been documenting the challenges of rising water around the world. Working with scientists, as well as learning more about human migration and waves, van Lohuizen has been able to highlight the clear warnings that many experts have been warning for years: Our shores are in danger.
His work, which divides 11 countries, has been used to inform the United Nations and the climate conference in Paris, and has been made into a TV, book, and a number of shows. One that looks like New York, Outflow of waves, shows how the island city will be affected by the upcoming change.
His book, After the Flood, shows in detail the temporary seasonal changes that occur in each contractor – and how they affect the people living there. While some countries have proven to have the capacity to establish sustainable development strategies, including migration routes, many are refusing to accept the rise in water as a regional issue. Van Lohuizen’s work highlights the interconnectedness between development and the sea, urging the viewer to think critically about the future.
Did you know that this project will take a lot of lives?
I restarted this in 2011-2012, as a minor issue. I watch modern-day migration to the Americas, and go up a year-long trek from the end of Chile to the northern tip of Alaska, looking at why people are migrating.
When I asked people on the San Blas Islands in Panama, they said to me, “We are being evacuated because the sea is rising. I was amazed because, you know, I was talking to them from the bottom of the ocean, about five feet under the water. This was 10 years ago, and I knew that sea level rise was an impending problem, but I had no idea that this was an issue before. I began to search for different parts of the world, as if there were any speed. The big problem was, how do you view things that are still unseen?
So how do you get a solid image that people can understand?
It involved a little research, as I wanted to find areas where people might already be aware of the problem, such as in the Pacific or Bangladesh. I really wanted to touch this all over the world.
I think I’m closing the project in 2015, because I feel like I’m starting again. How many islands, or how many beaches have been washed away, that you can show? It was the first deal with the New York Times, then it became a show, which went on to attend a seasonal conference in Paris, and I was finally reached by a Dutch radio video. This allowed me to go back to other places I had been to, and sometimes I found the same people.
I worked closely with scientists. I had to change my way of working at the very beginning of this story, because you know, as a photographer, you work with lanterns. I quickly realized that if I wanted to see it, I would have to work with the waves. When you see that the ground is already full of playful waves, it makes it a little difficult to imagine what it would mean if the lake was only about three or six feet[6 m]high. It’s not a lot. And there is no question as to whether the sea is rising. That’s the question.
When do people decide to move?
You may think that the issue is more urgent when the water is all in your house, but it starts a long time ago. If seawater floods the land and then dries up, people will not plant crops, because the soil is salted and the drinking water is salty. This is a good reason to move. This is usually not the case with the government, but with the people who can make the decision.
And where are the people moving to? Are they going to the cities? Are they going abroad?
It depends on where you are, right? If you are on a Pacific island, such as the Marshall Islands or Kiribati, you have nowhere to go, as it is no more than ten to ten feet[3 to 5 m]above sea level. Not only do people not know where to relocate, nor do they know where to relocate.
If you have to relocate, you are becoming a refugee, especially if you have to cross the border. And this is not the case all over the world, which is crazy. If you are trying to escape elsewhere because of the weather, there is a chance to get one. This is often seen as a national or local problem. Why Bangladesh has a problem and the Netherlands has a problem, but it is not answered worldwide.
Rising water levels in the oceans are only part of the climate crisis, but they are certainly widespread. I don’t know how they are negotiating in the US, but many people are fleeing Central America because there is no more water, or they can no longer grow crops, they are losing their fields.
By the way, these people on these islands in Panama are still here. It was a government program to be relocated, and the money suddenly disappeared. It is their culture, and they do not hold a high office in the Panamanian government. That’s why it was fun to see.
I’ve noticed that for the first time, when I’m there, people tell me they’re moving and they’re skeptical, which is obvious, isn’t it? It is a very difficult message for everyone, if you are told that you have to leave your parents’ country: Put your life in order, go to the high places where you have to learn to be a farmer, where you are always a fisherman. When I return [later], seemed very difficult. People were anxious to leave at that time, because they saw it as dangerous.
You’ve been working a lot with conflicts and migrations and the most difficult challenges over the years. Is this really different from covering weather problems?
I think he stays the same. We know that one of the main reasons for the Syrian war was at its origin, the lack of water. When you look at what is happening in the Sahel, and elsewhere, it is often associated with climate change. And if al-Qaeda or ISIS or anyone else can get involved, it changes the story, but it is often intertwined.
In the process, you have seen solutions or strategies being put in place, where you think, Well, we may have passed this stage, but maybe not all of them are lost?
I hope I have been able to provide the right form. A lot of people ask me, it must have been very frustrating in Bangladesh, and you know, it isn’t, because people are taking the answers in their hands. They have water all their lives. He knows what happens, and he changes. I have met many people who have already moved five or seven times. And, if they do not settle down, they move to the big cities. There is endurance.
There is nothing new about sea level rise. The main difference is that it took hundreds of years, or even thousands of years, and now it is happening in two generations. This makes it very different.
Before the Dutch were properly protected by pillars, people simply built mountains to ensure that their house was dry, or to move to another area. Especially in the West, we have not been able to change. We see a city like New York or Miami or Amsterdam, that has to be where you are. And obviously, we’re dealing with more people now.
Delta Commissioner in the Netherlands asked one of the largest technology companies in 2018 to look at what has happened. And the worst case scenario, is that, if nothing has happened, and if we do not come to terms with global warming under the Paris Agreement, the sea level could rise in the Netherlands anywhere between 3 to 9 feet by the end of this century.
That’s 80 years. If you’re born today, that’s what you have to witness. We in the Netherlands can probably handle three feet, but we can’t handle five or four feet. As a result there are natural ideas about what the Netherlands should do to protect themselves, but it often seems like the most recent approach to relocation.
Considering that cities like Amsterdam, or Rotterdam, Europe’s largest seaport, might be overlooked.
I think it’s hard in New York. It didn’t happen until Hurricane Sandy when people started thinking about the water and taking it seriously, and the money wasn’t too late. We’re eight years, nine years after Sandy, and when it comes to real things happening, nothing.
A lot can happen, obviously. The Dutch have proven that you can live in an underwater world, but it has cost a lot of money, and it took many years to make this, in a country that is still very small.
Many parts of the U.S. East Coast are insecure. What’s worse is the people who live on the archipelago. Basically, a luxury shopping mall is located on a fenced island, but you should not be on the border, as the barrier has to move, be exposed to storms and form a ground protection zone.
Time is of the essence. Bangladesh is one of the countries that has developed a comprehensive plan to protect its coastal areas, called the Delta Plan 2100. . It’s very interesting.
I did not include the project in the Netherlands in the first place, because I look at regions or countries around the world that are fast-moving, and the streets of Amsterdam are not flooded. With climate problems, we always think that it will not be as bad as predicted, but there is no single reason why this is correct, because every scientific report that comes out clearly shows a dark picture.
I often wonder, ‘How can this be?’ And the answer to that may be that we are in our best interests, aren’t we? We grew up with the fact that the economy is growing and that your children will probably have a better life than us. We have to be committed, which none of us like. So you know, take one or two steps and take turns to make sure the next generation is still healthy, which is a very different idea from ours.