Rivers of Life – Franck Vogel’s Transboundary Rivers Project

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By Franck Vogel

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.

A woman pumping water near Jorhat on the banks of the Brahmaputra

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 the Jordan, whose water is shared (or rather, fought) between Israel, Jordan and Palestine.

Journeys to these regions have not been easy. While working on the Nile story, there was an instance when he needed to photograph a giant bucket wheel excavator, which is used in surface mining.

Assam, the largest tea-growing region in India is flanked by the Brahmaputra on both sides

“It was in the middle of the bush, where dozens of men died during a tribal fight just near the machine,” Franck tells us. He had a military escort of eight soldiers who feared for an ambush, but thank goodness all went well.

Apart from build-ups of high tension, conflicts among the riparian states are also often riddled with complexities. Take the Brahmaputra for example. In the media, China is often portrayed as the main antagonist – four dams have been constructed along the same river stretch in Tibet and the country has been accused of causing a drying out of the river by the Indian government. However, stepping into India, another story unfolds.

For the rest of this article (Asian Geographic No.118 Issue 3 /2016 ) and other stories, check out our past issues here or download a digital copy here

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