Now, through disasters both man-made and natural, water is wreaking a new kind of havoc. Due to rising sea levels in the Bay of Bengal, and because the government has encouraged the unchecked growth of shrimp farms, the villages scattered along the south-western coast are being flooded with salt water. Large tracts of land, previously green with paddy, are now hot and stagnant pools, hospitable only to the cultivation of shrimp. The shrimp farms are lucrative, but they employ fewer people than the rice farms they have supplanted, leaving many households without an income. The briny water also has ruinous effects on the ecosystem. Nothing grows in these districts any more: the fish have died, along with the birds that depended on them. The cows have nothing to eat, so there is no milk; the tigers are fleeing inland and attacking humans. Worst of all, there is no fresh water to drink.
Munem Wasif’s photographs capture the desperate search for drinking water that has become a daily struggle for the villagers of southern Bangladesh. Their wells and fresh water sources contaminated, they spend the better part of their days in the search for water. Women make the long trek to the nearest source, kolshi flasks heavy on their hips. Children are taken out of school to help with water collection. Some villagers have taken collective action: every day, they lead small boats through the forest, gathering water and supplying their entire village. Others have no recourse but to pray – to the skies, to God, to Bon-Bibi – for the sweet, life-giving water that once coursed abundantly through this land.