Environmental Reportage

Over the past two years, I have been documenting (through visual and longform narratives) the effects of land-use and river-use change on livelihoods, communities, and ecosystems in South Asia. My work has taken me thus far to the Thar desert in Rajasthan, the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna river basin straddling India and Bangladesh and, most recently, to the Cauvery river basin in South India.


hilsakid2THE GUARDIAN: Piracy, pollution, and climate change: Bangladeshi fishermen on the brink

Last month, a coal ship capsized in southern Bangladesh – another in a long line of environmental catastrophes in the fragile mangrove ecosystem of the Sundarbans in the last 18 months. The multiple assaults of piracy, commercial shipping, climate change, and habitat degradation is wreaking devastation to a culture dependent on fish for survival. A short photo essay of mine from the murky waters of the Sundarbans delta, in the Guardian, April 4, 2016.

MINT: Troubled Waters

War makes headlines. But “slow violence”—which is neither graphic nor explosive—remains invisible, inflicted on communities by environmental degradation and climate change. It unfolds over temporal scales, its true implications manifesting only over several generations. A photoessay on the slowly degrading near-unviable traditional livelihoods along the rivers of South Asia.


The Sundarbans is the largest unbroken stand of mangroves in the world. This richly biodiverse delta protects Bangladesh against the devastation of a rising sea. Damaged by an oil spill, at risk from increasing salinity, and threatened by an impending coal plant, the ‘Beautiful Forest’ is engaged in a fight for survival
  1. THE OIL-SPILL: The murky matter of an oil spill in the largest unbroken stand of mangroves in the world and the murkier cover-up. A story from the Sundarbans in Bangladesh
  2. A TOXIC CLEAN-UP: Don’t Touch. Don’t Ingest. Don’t Inhale! No one told the fishermen of the three hazards of heavy fuel oil. Unknowing, they did all three
  3. TALE OF TWO STUDIES: A UN team surveyed the Sundarbans oil spill and spoke no evil. An independent study details the havoc that was, and warns of the doom to follow
  4. OIL TANKERS PLY THE SUNDARBANS AGAIN: Five months after a devastating oil spill, the Bangladeshi government removes a ban on oil tankers plying through the Sundarbans, endangering its main defender in the battle against climate change
  5. KILLING THE HERO: A dirty coal-fired plant, a ship-breaking yard, petroleum reservoirs, and toxic shipping traffic gravely threaten the Sundarbans, the frontline of Bangladesh's defense against climate change
  6. ON THE BRINK OF BRINE: The Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna empty into the Bay of Bengal, making the large Sundarbans active delta. The ecosystem survives on the delicate balance of freshwater and brine
  7. DISAPPEARING HILSA: All along the length of Bangladesh and especially in the ecologically rich delta, fishermen's nets had come up empty and the delta echoed with tales of woe. Where was the Hilsa?


People of the Thar desert who live with the cycle of seasons find ways of feeding thousands of people without irrigation. The Indian government, however, calls 68% of the deep Thar a "wasteland," and has plans to "better utilize" it. Actions born of this new lexicon threaten to destroy livelihoods and a whole ecosystem. These stories are part of an ongoing series that traces the changing fates of the desert grassland commons.
  1. MIRACLE OF SKY RIVER: People of the Thar desert who live with the cycle of seasons find ways of feeding thousands of people without irrigation. This story unfolds over a year and recounts history through contemporary lives lived gently
  2. THE MEMORY OF WELLS: Traditional desert dwellers, semi-nomadic shepherds, call upon ancient wisdom to survive in the deep Thar desert of Rajasthan. This is a story about people who remember where the wells live
  3. FORTY NAMES OF CLOUDS: The deep Thar desert sees only forty cloudy days. Yet, the shepherds have as many different names for clouds. Does the essence of thriving in this hostile clime begin with an evocative lexis of the land?
  4. BLIND MEN AND THE DESERT: The Indian government calls 68% of the Thar a "wasteland," and plans to "better utilize" it. Actions born of this new lexicon threaten to destroy livelihoods and an ecosystem at a time when monsoons are unpredictable
  5. THE LANDSCAPE GLOSSARY: When we lose an evocative lexicon of the land, when we forget, we lose what Barry Lopez calls the “voice of memory over the land.” This is an attempt to keep that lexicon alive. Do contribute, and help it grow!
  6. IN SEARCH OF A MINSTREL: Where could I find the desert minstrels who sing a "chhand," a poem, of a fabled people long gone from the Jaisalmer area? Rumor had it that there were only very few minstrels who recited the poem anymore


Anthropogenic interventions seem to have cascading effects on lives and ecosystems. Land and livelihood lost, people become refugees in their own land and are often forced to migrate and live hand to mouth. This series follows the fates of environmental refugees and explores how unpredictable climate events are now exacerbating inequities on the ground
  1. THE NOWHERE PEOPLE: Loss of land & livelihood due to erosion brought on by a wildly swinging Ganges in West Bengal has led to a slew of new Environmental Refugees. This work was completed on a grant from The Asia Foundation.
  2. WHEN A RIVER RUNS DRY: No water in the rivers means no fish. No fish means no money. No money means no food. The fisherman's view of the Teesta water-sharing non-agreement
  3. SHIFTING SANDS, SHIFTING LIVES: Life on the char islands in Bangladesh's Teesta river basin is heavily dependent on water in the river. And that is controlled by upstream India
  4. TRAPPED IN SHARDS: India in Bangladesh in India in Bangladesh -- life for the people in the enclaves, remnants of forgotten Mughal treaties, hangs between a bloody border and a hungry river
  5. DISAPPEARING HILSA: All along the length of Bangladesh and especially in the ecologically rich delta, fishermen's nets had come up empty and the delta echoed with tales of woe. As fisherfolk sink deeper into debt, and their future increasingly uncertain, the question arises: where is all the hilsa?


devarabeesanahalli Bangalore is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. But the city lies in a dry belt with rapidly depleting sources of freshwater. What lessons does history have for its growth? What does life in the basin look like, given the various tugs and pulls on the hotly contested Cauvery waters?
  1. WATERING A CITY: Bangalore has no perennial rivers. Rulers and administrators over hundreds of years have recognized that this region is water-constrained and planned growth around water
  2. BUY ME A RIVER: Growth above all has been Bengaluru's motto. But Karnataka is facing the worst drought in 44 years. What does an increasingly unpredictable monsoon mean for Kempe Gauda's city?

A Ray of Hope for the Hornbills (Deccan Herald, Jan 24, 2012): Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) along with local village elders, and Pakke Tiger Reserve's Forest Department have launched a Hornbill Nest Adoption program to protect hornbills during the important nesting season. I visited the area while the locals were being trained. Barefoot in the park (Deccan Herald, Sept 20, 2011): A report on the tough, lonely, thankless life led by forest guards and watchers. Whose Right Is It Anyway? (Current Conservation, 2011): A longform essay on farmer-ungulate conflict in India. Link is a PDF. Scourge of the aliens (Indiatogether.Org, 2006) : As invasive species aggressively eliminate native plants and animals, whole ecosystems are impacted. India has been slow to recognise and respond to the complex challenges this poses. Meanwhile, invasives have already taken over large areas, with plenty of damage to show.
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