Winners of Environment – Stories | World Press Photo 2021
Here is a look at the most compelling narratives from the Environment–Stories category of the World Press Photo 2021 contest.
Over the years, World Press Photo has played a pivotal role in showcasing significant stories—revolutions against corrupt governments, migrations due to conflicts, the battle of survival of endangered species, and stories of hope and resilience. The contest recognises and awards the best visual storytellers who have gone out of their way to document these moving narratives, with an aim to bring about change. This year’s winning images represent perseverance, as the world grapples with a pandemic amidst ongoing chaos and destruction. However, there is a glimmer of hope, as a few citizens have begun to take charge.
First Prize: Lalo de Almeida, Brazil, Panos Pictures, for Folha de São Paulo
Pantanal Ablaze: Nearly a third of Brazil’s Pantanal region—the world’s largest tropical wetland and flooded grasslands, sprawling across some 140,000 to 160,000 square kilometers—was consumed by fires over the course of 2020. According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, there were triple the amount of fires in 2020 compared to 2019. Fires in the Pantanal tend to burn just below the surface, fueled by highly combustible peat, which means they burn for longer and are harder to extinguish. The Pantanal, which is recognized by UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve and is one of Brazil’s most important biomes, is suffering its worst drought in nearly 50 years, causing fires to spread out of control. Many of the fires started from slash-and-burn farming, which has become more prevalent due to the weakening of conservation regulation and enforcement under President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration. The Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) has seen its funding reduced by around 30 percent. Bolsonaro has frequently spoken out against environmental protection measures, and has made repeated comments undermining Brazilian courts’ attempts to punish offenders. Environmentalists say that this is encouraging agricultural burning and creating a climate of impunity. Luciana Leite, who studies humanity’s relationship with nature at the Federal University of Bahia, predicts the total collapse of the Pantanal, if current climate trends and anti-environmental policies persist.
Second Prize: Ciril Jazbec, Slovenia, for National Geographic
One Way to Fight Climate Change: Make Your Own Glaciers: As Himalayan snows dwindle and glaciers recede, communities in the Ladakh region of northern India are building huge ice cones that provide water into summer. Ladakh is a cold desert, with winter temperatures reaching -30°C, and an average rainfall of around 100 millimeters. Most villages face acute water shortages, particularly during the crucial planting season in April and May. In 2013, Sonam Wangchuk, a Ladakhi engineer and innovator, came up with a form of glacier-grafting that creates artificial glaciers in the form of conical ice heaps, resembling Buddhist religious stupas. The ice stupas store winter meltwater and slowly release it for the growing season in spring, when it is most needed for crops. The stupas are created in winter, when water is carried down from higher ground in underground pipes. The final section rises vertically, and the difference in height causes water to fountain outwards, in subzero temperatures, freezing to form a stupa. Stupas were established in 26 villages in 2020, and a pipeline is under construction to create 50 more. Stupa creator Wangchuk says that the stupas stand for a final attempt of Himalayan mountain communities to fight the climate crisis, but should not be considered as a solution to the challenge: that remains the responsibility of national governments, and people adopting environmentally friendly lifestyles to reduce emissions.
Third Prize: Aitor Garmendia, Spain
Inside the Spanish Pork Industry: The Pig Factory of Europe: Spain is one of the four largest global exporters of pork, alongside Germany, the US, and Denmark. The European Union as a whole consumes around 20 million tons of pork annually, and exports some 13 percent of its total production, mostly to East Asia, in particular to China. An EU-funded campaign, Let’s Talk About Pork, has been launched in Spain, France, and Portugal, giving its objective as a drive to counter fake claims surrounding meat production and the consumption of pork in Europe, and to demonstrate that the sector meets the highest standards of sustainability, biosecurity, and food safety in the world. Such standards include guarantees that animals do not suffer pain, and that they have enough space to move freely. Animal rights groups, on the other hand, argue that such practices as routine tail-docking and narrow gestation crates for sows constitute animal abuse, and that animal pain and suffering is widespread. Animal rights investigators say that the industry makes access to farms difficult, and that they are compelled to gain access to such facilities covertly, often at night, in order to document what happens inside. These photographs were taken on a number of such incursions, on different dates, at various facilities across Spain.
Tags: documentary photography, photojournalism, Stories, photo story, Documentary, Photo Essay, World Press Photo, photography contest, winners, World Press Photo Award 2021, Environment Stories