The last days of the Sundarbans

In a mangrove forest on the shore of the Indian Ocean the British photographer Peter Caton portrayed the first victims of climate change – islanders who are dislodged by rising waters and cyclones.

published in Südlink magazine 12/2010 in German >>

Their faces are the only sign of life in this region sinking into the sea: wet skin gleaming against a gray rainy sky. Even on the most remote islands in the “Sundarbans”, that vast mangrove forest between Bangladesh and India, photographer Peter Caton employs studio light – thus lending the people portrayed a heroic, almost glamorous touch: When Bhupal braces mud chunks constructing an embankment or when little Anjana sits in the water, as if she never wanted to leave her paradisiac island. Yes – they are heroic, the inhabitants of the Sundarbans; with the force of the desperate they try to keep their home from sinking, keep it for just one more moment, aware of the vanity of their attempt. The industrialised countries with their carbon dioxide emissions will arrange for that…
4.3 million people still live on the hundreds of marsh islands in the Ganges delta, which have been flooded for so many times already, that today muddy craters gape where once stood houses. Many displaced people hold out in tents on the levee. Drinking water is scarce. Cholera is spreading. Four islands have been swallowed by the sea in the last two decades; 6,000 families lost everything, more will follow.
The British photojournalist Peter Caton has travelled in the Sundarbans several times since 2007. These journeys left a strong impression on the 34-year-old; climate change has since become the leitmotif of his photographic work. On his photos, all children born in this perishing world look into the void. “I’m afraid of the storm”, little Sanjiv confessed to Caton and his journalist companion Cristiane Aoki. “With every storm I climb onto the roof and eat puffed rice and sugar.” – Sanjivs fear was only too justified: Three months after Caton photographed the “Sinking Sunderbans”, cyclone Aila struck the region and left misery and destruction. As in these photos, one will never see the islands again.

see the audio slide show “Sinking Sundarbans – Climate Voices” by Peter Caton and Cristiane Aoki >>