As the Water Comes: Photographer Nicky Quamina-Woo wins award for photo essay documenting rising sea levels in northern Senegal

Documentary photographer Nicky Quamina-Woo has won the Marilyn Stafford FotoReportage Award 2020 with her project, As the Water Comes, which documents rising sea levels in northern Senegal.

As the Water Comes documents the village of Saint-Louis, on the northern coast of Senegal, which has been in a losing battle with the Atlantic ocean. A region that has become known as the “Venice of Africa”, has seen hundreds of families evacuated as their houses have been destroyed by the rising sea levels and inhabitants forced to move to tent cities when their homes are no longer habitable.

Africa, with its abundant natural resources, is often overlooked when it comes to environmental issues though it is affected by desertification, soil erosion, and insect infestations. Photographer Nicky Quamina-Woo aims highlight some of the effects of climate change in Senegal.

Saint-Louis, the old colonial capital of Senegal Saint-Louis nestled between the mouth of the Senegal river and the Atlantic, is in a state of permanent flood alert. One village, Doun Baba Dieye, in the southern part of Langue de Barbarie – a thin, sandy strip of land protecting Saint-Louis from the ocean – had to be abandoned after it was completely submerged in 2009.

According to a study commissioned by the Senegalese government, 80% of Saint-Louis territory will be at risk of flooding by 2080, and 150,000 people will have to relocate. Most of west Africa’s coastal cities, home to 105 million people, face a similar threat.

Nicky Quamina-Woo said: “The hope is that with a larger spotlight pointed at the government it will start to shift its response to climate change, which needs more public participation and an integration of local knowledge – particularly as it relates to key economic activities like fishing and agriculture.”

Having been awarded first-prize in the Marilyn Stafford FotoReportage Award 2020, Nicky Quamina-Woo will receive £2,000 towards the completion of her project As The Water Comes.

The photographer and storyteller, who is of Black and Polynesian heritage, explores the effects of trauma within communities throughout her work, and specifically looks at ways that their collective suffering can be transformed into something new.

Speaking about the As the Water Comes project, she said: “Going forwards, the photo essay will expand to include more of the public projects currently being implemented, in particular the ‘soft’ solutions more in harmony with nature.

“At Langue de Barbarie, they are experimenting with fencing made from local typha – a fast growing reed – to help provide a barrier to capture the wind-blown sand to re-build the dunes. Local NGOs are teaching people from the area how to maintain the reeds to help reforest these eroded areas that have been heavily impacted by the ocean.”

Nicky Quamina-Woo – who divides her time between Southeast Asia, the African continent and New York City – was also recently awarded the inaugural Reuters Storytelling grant for her work on a Tanzania based project about the intersection of western medicine and witchcraft.

Image Credits: © Nicky Quamina-Woo

Nicky Quamina-Woo

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living.

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