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Our changing climate

A photo exhibition by the VII Foundation

Story by United Nations Development Programme November 13th, 2017

This photo exhibition by the VII Foundation was created exclusively for the 2017 Pathway to Paris Concert for Climate Action. Held on the eve of the COP23 climate conference, the concert brought together legendary musicians and dedicated activists, raising their voices for bold action to address climate change.

Echoing their cry, this collection of 20 images calls attention to the impact of climate change on the planet and in the lives of people around the world.

"Statistics are vital when discussing climate change. But when you can see the faces, landscapes and details of ecosystems – all elements represented by those vital statistical numbers – you can better grasp the reality and immediacy that cannot be ignored." – Ron Haviv, Director, VII Foundation


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Darfuris moving from place to place in search of safety during the Sudan civil war. Declining and highly irregular patterns of rainfall in parts of the country — particularly in the Darfur region — provide mounting evidence of long-term regional climate change. In Northern Darfur, precipitation has fallen by a third in the past 80 years. Reports from UN Environment argue that severe environmental degradation is a root cause of the continued conflict affecting local communities.

Photo by Gary Knight/VII Photo


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Young girls leave a camp in Sudan for internally displaced persons to gather firewood. For some, the work will take more than seven hours and leave them exposed to attack. Girls as young as 8 have been assaulted, raped and killed while trying to gatherwood, essential for cooking in the camps. UN reports list climate change among the root causes of the conflicts that have displaced so many in the region.

Photo by Ron Haviv/VII Photo


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Madonna sits in silent vigil in a Breezy Point community where homes were destroyed by fire after Hurricane Sandy swept through the community. Hurricane Sandy was an unprecedented storm when it arrived on the shores of New York very late in the hurricane season. Scientists say the sea level around the New York area is now about one foot higher than a century ago. As a result, superstorms like Sandy could become more commonplace.

Photo by Ruddy Roye/VII Photo


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Leroy Durham, 62, and Roy Young, on horse, ranchers from Cimmaron County, near Boise City, Oklahoma. The middle states of America are experiencing their worst drought since the "Dust Bowl" of the 1930s. Changes to crop growth cycles due to warming winters and alterations in the timing and magnitude of rainfall events will require new livestock and agriculture practices from farmers in the region. With worsening yields, unpredictable weather and the rising cost of irrigation to dry fields, the economic viability of these communities is acutely at risk.

Photo by Ashley Gilbertson/VII Photo


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Nestled between Asia and Europe, the Caspian Sea currently sits about 87 1/2 feet below the ocean’s mean sea level and falls depending largely on variations in rainfall in the watersheds of the Volga and other rivers. While changes in water level have affected the lives of nearby inhabitants since ancient times, rising temperatures combined with more recent damming, and diverting of the Volga and other rivers has exacerbated the inconsistencies in sea level. Additionally, oil spillage from drilling has created an unsafe environment for marine and plant species, leading to the deaths of seal, sturgeon and other plant and marine life.

Photo by Antonin Kratochvil/VII Photo


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In Madagascar, farmers practice tavy, an illegal slash and burn agricultural technique that causes massive reductions in forests. Forests counteract climate change by storing carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. Exacerbating the human toll on the land, El Niño is said to be responsible for causing recent severe droughts as well as unprecedented heavy rains, reducing the biomass of local soil, causing large-scale erosion and desertification. Only 10 percent of Madagascar’s original forest cover remains.

Photo by Ed Kashi/VII


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A dead elephant near Shumba in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is facing a wide range of water challenges that are exacerbated by climate change, from supply shortage to falling groundwater levels. Park authorities have drilled boreholes to ensure a constant supply of drinking water for the animals. But the continuation of the animals' deaths by drought and poaching has led the government to make the controversial decision to sell and ship elephants and other wildlife to China in an attempt to rid themselves of the burden.

Photo by Gary Knight/VII Photo


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Gold miners work in the mining city of Lamal in Peru. In less then one month, the effects of work at this mine result in a football field-sized hole in the earth. Local and international demand for minerals, such a gold, lead and zinc, drive the lucrative industry, causing mass deforestation.

Photo by Ron Haviv/VII Photo


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The effects of gold mining are evident in an area that was once rain forest and is now without trees in the Madre de Dios region, Peru. Degradation and deforestation caused by mining release the carbon stored in the trees of the Amazon back into the atmosphere at an alarming rate, leading to warmer temperatures, soil erosion and loss of animal habitats. The need for human indigenous groups to leave their land in search of resources also forces a cultural shift to an agrarian, cash-based lifestyle and sparks tensions between groups competing for the same, evaporating resources.

Photo by Ron Haviv/VII Photo


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Muddy feet of Bedouin boys who are drilling for water in the desert in Syria. A series of severe droughts has plagued Syria since the 1990s, in what is considered the worst dip seen in water levels in 900 years. Recent studies have labeled climate change and the decades-long drought as one of the causes for the Syrian war, due to the large influx of farmers into cities, having left their dry fields in search of different work. The increased urban populations alongside political unrest boiled over, ultimately, into upheaval and uprising.

Photo by Ed Kasha/VII Photo


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Deforestation in the Brazilian upper Mato Grosso state of the Amazon, where farmers have burnt ancient rain forests to make way for more farmland to raise cattle and soybeans. Illegal clearing of Latin American forests has led to a spike in carbon dioxide emissions, quickening the rate of climate change across the planet. Since the 1990s, the amount of carbon the Amazon is able to store has dropped by a third.

Photo by John Stanmeyer/VII Photo


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The serene beauty of Armenia’s largest water reservoir, Lake Sevan, belies a more tumultuous reality, the effect of climate change on its waters and ultimately on its already weak economy. A UNDP report found that the hydro-electric power plant situated on the lake is likely to lose generating capacity over the coming years as water levels decrease. This would cause electricity costs to increase, affecting the lives of almost 3 million people, many of whom already struggle in the poorest country in the Caucasus.

Photo by Anush Babajanyan/VII Photo


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Roman Janiszek, a former miner, watches his colleagues extract coal from an illegal rat-hole mine at night. When coal mines in the Walbrzych area closed, thousands of people lost their jobs. Yet more than 88 percent of Poland’s electricity is powered by coal, and 70 percent of Polish households burn low-quality coal or rubbish in old stoves for heat. That dependence means that mining never stopped in Lower Silesia, despite the shuttering of industrial mines in the late 1990s. Many former miners began extracting and selling the coal illegally. Poland is the European capital of smog with 33 out of the 50 most polluted cities, according to WHO.

Photo by Maciej Nabrdalik/VII Photo


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Wild reindeer forage for food in Barentsburg, the second-largest settlement on the Svalbard Archipelago. Scientists say Arctic reindeer are becoming smaller and lighter due to the impact of climate change. Arctic temperatures are rising faster than the world average amid a build-up of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and the main effect on the reindeer appears to be that their populations are increasing. The plants that reindeer eat during the relatively short Arctic summer are available for longer periods as the region warms, and that ensures healthy females more likely to conceive in autumn. While Svalbard’s reindeer population is growing, milder winters also hurt reindeer as lower temperatures lead to heavier snowfall. Deeper snow can make it difficult for the animals to access food.

Photo by Maciej Nabrdalik/VII Photo


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The total glacial area of the Cordillera Blanca glaciers shrank by more than 30 percent in the period from 1930 to the present. The marked glacier recession since the 1980s may not be explained by changes of temperatures and precipitation alone. It is suggested that the glaciers are still reacting to the positive air temperature rise before 1980. Especially small and low-lying glaciers are characterized by a serious imbalance and may disappear in the near future.

Peru, having the largest number of tropical glaciers in the world, desperately needs the water released from the glaciers, which act as reservoirs. The runoff from the Cordillera Blanca glaciers provides 10 to 20 percent of the total annual water runoff in the Rio Santa Valley below, but it can reach 40 percent during the six or seven months of dry season. Glacial melt threatens the supply of drinking water, the country's power (80 percent of which has traditionally come from hydro-electricity), and the needs of the booming sectors of the economy — agro-exports and mining — both absorbing huge volumes of water.

Photo by Daniel Schwartz/VII Photo


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A boy plays with mud in front of ruins in a flood-damaged neighbourhood of Mingora, Swat Valley, Pakistan. The 2010 floods in Pakistan were the biggest in the nation's recorded history. Climate scientists believe the severity is attributable to global warming. One-fifth of Pakistan was flooded and millions were displaced, including 4 million left with food shortages. Long-term effects of the flooding include the loss of livestock and the washing away of massive amounts of grain, leading to a lack of adequate sources of nutrition to sustain healthy life among its citizens.

Photo by Tomas Van Houtyryve/VII Photo


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In Mahdia, Guyana mining is second only to agriculture in importance to the economic sector. Deforestation from the practice contributes to the release of carbon dioxide into the air, increasing the rate of climate change. The harmful effects of mining are only a few of Guyana’s hardships, as the country also suffers from rising sea levels, storm surges and flooding, and acute drops in rainfall, all associated with the advance of climate change in the region.

Photo by Antonin Kratochvil/VII Photo


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Scientists have reported that 2014 was the hottest year on earth, since record-keeping began in 1880. It was also the hottest year on record for California, where many environmental groups are urging citizens to take measures to adapt to the changing climate, to reduce stress on resources like water. A 1,000-square-foot lawn, watered for 10 minutes a day with sprinklers, uses 8,400 gallons of water a month.

By comparison, the same size garden planted with natural ground cover, watered for 20 minutes a week with water efficient rotator sprinklers, uses 200 gallons a month. Artificial grass is groomed by brushing it, and occasionally rinsing it with water.

Photo by Sara Terry/VII Photo


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A woman walks through a cactus field in a drought-stricken area of western Somaliland, a semi-autonomous region in the north of Somalia. Successive droughts, made worse by El Niño weather patterns in the Horn of Africa, hit northern Somalia hard this year, leaving millions of people in need of humanitarian aid.

Three out of four Somalis depend on the land to survive, either by herding or farming. Yet the rains are becoming less frequent and drought the norm. Land is degraded out of desperation, and people’s historic resilience is broken down. As access to water and pasture shrinks, so do people’s options. The result is a growing wave of violence that swells with each short rain, dry well and failed crop.

Photo by Nichole Sobecki/VII Photo


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On 20 February 2017, the government of South Sudan declared famine in parts of the country. Though one of the main causes of the famine in South Sudan was man-made conflict, some areas in the eastern part of the country are facing food security issues from prolonged droughts. These are believed to be due to climate change. South Sudan's climate is changing. There has been a change in frequency and intensity of rainfall and a rise in temperatures. Over the past 30 years, the country has been among the most rapidly warming areas on the globe, with temperatures increasing as much as 0.4°C per decade.

People leave their homes in search of food and safety. This family arrived in a displacement camp, as their village was unsafe. The grandmother, Elena Jacob Bilal, says “I am sure it will take a long time before we get the chance to go back home.”

Photo by Ilvy NjIokktjien/VII Photo

The VII Foundation an independent, charitable media and education non-profit organization that is partnering with the photographers of the VII Agency. It was founded to produce work that addresses complex social, economic and human rights issues.