Benoit Aquin The Chinese 'Dust Bowl
One of the greatest environmental disasters of our time: The Chinese ‘Dust Bowl’ is probably the largest conversion of productive land into sand anywhere in the world. Deserts cover 18% of China today. Of those, 78% are natural, while humans created 22%.
With unsustainable practices, to date, Chinese farmers and herders have transformed about 400,000 square kilometres of cropland and verdant prairie into new desert. The shepherds have overgrazed the steppes, allowing their sheep and goats to chew the grass all the way down to its roots. The farmers, for their part, have over-exploited the arable land by opening fragile grasslands to cultivation and over pumping rivers and aquifers in the oases bordering the ancient deserts. As the deep aquifer under the North China Plain is depleted, the region is losing its last water reserve, its only safety cushion, stretching the capacity of the Yellow River.
The soil, once it is barren, is swept up by the wind into dust storms, battering the capital, Beijing, and then moving on to Korea and Japan. The most massive of the yellow clouds of dust make their way across the Pacific and reach North America. The loss of precious topsoil for Chinese agriculture ends up polluting both China’s cities and countries halfway around the world. The area of the desert thus created is equivalent to more than half the farmland in Canada. Three hundred million people are affected by dust storms in China. One hundred and eighty million people depend on the Yellow River. Hundreds of thousands of people have already been relocated and cities with ecological refugees have been created. The Chinese ‘Dust Bowl’ is a fascinating subject. It is a compelling environmental manmade disaster and photographically an interesting journey. When I embarked on this trip I was convinced that I could make surreal images and at the same time raise awareness. This is about scarce water resources, desertification and ecological refugees in China.
About the author
1963, Montreal, Canada
Benoit Aquin studied at the New England School of Photography in Boston until 1987. Aquin’s new photojournalistic and documentary projects, since 2002, are an examination of large-scale environmental issues and their impact on humanity. They demonstrate his artistic and humanistic commitment. He says, I believe photography is peeking at the essence of things, and I feel greatly rewarded when I think people have been inspired by my work, because it is like planting seeds.
- The Chinese 'Dust Bowl', published in Foto8, and Time.com (2008)
- The Chinese 'Dust Bowl', published in a book titled Inside China from National Geographic Society, The Walrus and Courrier Japon. (2007)
- The Northwest Passage published in the Guardian, Time Magazine, Vanity Fair Italy, Le Monde2, Canadian Geographic
- A Portrait Of Sheila Watt-Cloutier (Canadian environmentalist) with Marianne Pearl for Glamour Magazine
- 2004-2007: Published in the daily newspaper LaPresse in Montreal, a series about a worldwide look at the implications of a world without a clean and abundant supply of water, a series about Global Warming with Inuk hunters and a series on the victims of pesticides in banana plantations in Nicaragua.
- 2007 Grand Prix in the Lux competition, in the category pertaining to landscape for the series of photos about global warming in the Arctic. Also won a group prize from the Canadian National Newspaper Award for LaPresse in the category Special Project for a series about a worldwide look at the implications of a world without a clean and abundant supply of water
- 2006 The Federation of Quebec Journalist awarded him the Prix Antoine-Desilets in the news category for his image titled Tsunami. That same year, he was a finalist in the photojournalism section of the Lux competition for his series Tsunami
- 2001 Grand Prix in the Lux competition, in the category pertaining to photojournalism, for the series of photos of the Summit of the Americas
- 2007 Territoires Sous Pression, the exhibition for the series of photos of stressed environments and solutions being applied. Work realised in China and Egypt. Exhibited at Maison de la culture du Plateau Mont-Royal
- 2003 Slide show at the Biennale de photographie de Montréal 2003 called Ordre public/ désordre mondiale
Benoit Aquin, The Chinese 'Dust Bowl', 2006-2007
Edward Burtynsky, Selected works, 1996-2007
Jesus Abad Colorado, Landscapes and Battles: Two wings wait for the end of the tragedy, 1995-2002
Thomas Joshua Cooper, The World's Edge - The Atlantic Basin Project, 1998-2006
Sebastian Copeland, Antarctica - The Global Warning, 2006
Christian Cravo, Waters of Hope, Rivers of Tears, 1995-2008
Lynn Davis, Ice, 1988-2007
Carl De Keyzer, Moments before the Flood, 2006-2007
Reza Deghati, War and Peace, 1994-2006
Susan Derges, Eden & The Observer and the Observed, 1991-2008
Malcolm Hutcheson, Lahore's Waste Water Problem, 2008
Chris Jordan, In Katrina's Wake: Portraits of Loss from an Unnatural Disaster, 2005
David Maisel, Terminal Mirage & The Lake Project, 2001-2004
Mary Mattingly, Second Nature and Time Has Fallen Asleep, 2004-2008
Robert Polidori, After The Flood, 2005-2006
Roman Signer, Body of Work, 1976-2000
Jules Spinatsch, Snow Management, 2004-2008
Munem Wasif, Water Tragedy: Climate Refugee of Bangladesh, 2007