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THE FACE OF WATER | Anybody out there?

Updated: Jan 6, 2021

Let’s play a game of word association.

When I say “global warming,” the picture that comes to mind is probably one of a polar bear stranded on a melting glacier. When I say “plastic pollution,” the images it conjures up is probably a turtle struggling with swallowed plastic in the ocean.

The devastating bushfires in Australia; exhausted koalas being rescued and given water to drink.

When I utter the phrase COVID19; an anonymous crowd of facemasks.

Man's destructive impact on nature is documented worldwide through iconic images - photographs that move us, remain engraved in our minds, and play on the various emotional strings that compel us to share the image, bringing it to the attention of others.

But for the water crisis, this isn’t as straightforward.

Water crisis Photo by Lior Sperandeo ליאור ספרנדאו


The true cost of water

Of all the chemical compounds in the world, water is the simplest - H20.

But for over 790 million people who live without access to improved water supply, water is no simple matter at all. Millions of people consume their drinking water from exposed, contaminated water sources as their only choice and the water are unworthy of drinking.

Dirty drinking water in Zambia Photo by Lior Sperandeo

I came face to face with this crisis in East Africa years ago and since then I have not been able to let go of the subject. In a number of unconventional journeys, I have documented hundreds of people dealing with the lack of the simplest and most basic resource - water.


My eyes water

My first encounter with the water crisis took place during a severe drought deep in Uganda's rural Karamoja region. Far from the eyes of tourists, humanitarian organizations, and government officials, I found a catastrophe.

Without prior preparation, I was exposed to experiences that still haunt me from time to time.

Water crisis photo by Lior Sperandeo

Skinny older women who want to die, mothers who couldn’t breastfeed because they haven't eaten for a week, and the constant crying of hoarse babies. Instead of being able to consume the natural occurring milk through their mother's body, they drink contaminated mud that their tiny bodies cannot bear.

This is not a science fiction movie, it is a painful reality for a lot of people.

In those cursed moments, I realized how much this crisis is in need of a face, a voice , an illustration that speaks to more than simply statistics and numbers. The crisis requires an icon that will push us to care and to promote change for the sake of those who need it, even if they don't live up our street.

Over the years, it has become the center of my creativity, to give a crisis like this a face.

To do so, I had to understand the subject in depth and not rely on a single encounter. So I joined a humanitarian organization digging wells all over Africa and began learning from the different communities the water crisis impacts.

Going down stream

In Uganda, I accompanied barefoot children marching day after day to collect water from smelly mud puddles.

In Ethiopia, I met mothers who buried their children because of illnesses caused by contaminated drinking water. In South Sudan, I heard from various communities about the worsening climate situation, causing water sources to change and dry up completely.

In Tanzania, I met entire villages with no access to water. Their only solution was to dig in dry rivers, hoping to find water.