Munem Wasif

Munem Wasif Water Tragedy: Climate Refugee of Bangladesh

Riverbank erosion in its most violent form has led to the heartbreaking misery of people in the Munshiganj area. Hundreds of houses shifted as river erosion took away land rapidly, 2007

Minutes ago a boat had capsized in the middle of the tumultuous River Padma. Local residents are immersed in a discussion over the viciousness of the river, possibly induced by climate variability, at the river bank 2007

This woman’s house has been devoured by the river. Now she is migrating to a new land with her cow, before the storms hit again. Climate refugee polls seem to be increasing every year, 2007

Hahebanu (18), having fought for 12 days with the floodwater, the struggle of this woman continues in Kurigram as the water has not yet receded. Waterlogging, following floods is thought to be on the rise in the event of climate change, making people more, 2007

Monwara’s Quran lies ravaged and ruined in the paddy field in Borguna. One day after the cyclone, while hunting for her belongings, she stumbled upon the holy book, 2007, Munem wasif / Agence VU / DrikNEWS

Puspa Rani Roy is distraught with grief and uncertainty. The vicious River Padma has washed away her home, cattle and other possessions. She waits, clueless about her next refuge in Munshiganj, victimized by the wraths of climate, 2007

Climate refugees have been forced to migrate to new lands because of riverbank erosion. The tins roofs from destroyed houses have been collected where the meager clothing of a mother and her child have been left to dry, 2007

Flood waters remain logged. The people have adapted to this aspect of climate and continue to exist in waist-deep flood waters, sometimes even inside their homes, 2007

Hatem Ali, 70 years old, has become completely penniless after the cyclone hit in Borguna. All his possessions – 20 chickens, 7 goats, 1 boat and his house have been wrecked. He shudders at the thought of beggining a new life, 2007, Munem wasif / Agence VU / DrikNEWS

A mother is feeding her child as they move towards a new land, 2007

Artist's statement

Farmers beside Brahmaputra in Kurigram have had to move five times at least, in the last ten years. Every year rivers are becoming more violent while people living beside them are becoming more vulnerable. Like Bashumati Debi of Munshiganj, a wiry 37-year-old who has never driven a car, ran an air conditioner or done much of anything that produces greenhouse gases.

There are many more all over the world that are on the verge of becoming climate refugees, the tragic victims of too much or too little water. Water resource issues interact with a wide range of socioeconomic and environmental sectors including health, agriculture, biodiversity, public safety, industry, and navigation. Even if the emission of greenhouse gases were stabilized today, increases in temperature and the associated impacts including water availability and flooding will continue for many, many years. Things are more critical in a country like Bangladesh which has 140 million people packed into an area a little smaller than Illinois. In recent decades more intense rainfall events have occurred and people here experienced extreme water events in the form of severe flood, drought and heat waves. Last year the electric tidal force of the harsh Cyclone Sidr blow or the crushing rivers all have altered lives of this inhabitance. People lost children, crops from a field, house or the piece of yard that was their only asset. Only flood took away 1.5 million acres of crop, Sidr snatched away
10 - 15 thousand lives and river erosion gulped thousand acres of land. As the sea level slowly rises, this nation that is little more than a series of low-lying deltas islands amid some of Asia’s mightiest rivers – the Ganges, Jamuna-Brahmaputra and
Meghna - is seeing saltwater creep into its coastal soils and drinking water. Water is a critical core sector so what impacts here have cascading effects.

From the sustainable development perspective, the top priority for adaptation in the water sector should be to reduce the vulnerabilities of people and societies caused by increased climate variability and extreme events. Otherwise Bashumati’s mighty Padma will keep snatching. Many Monwara’s Quran will be blown. Countless Hatem Ali’s milking cows will get lost. These simple people who are always fighting with immense poverty and misfortunes still live a happy village life with no contribution in changing their very known weather will constantly face the water tragedy. It is time to take proper cautions, policies and regulations to lessen the gap between worse and better. Water is life; let there be life. Let’s not make it a tragedy.

About the photographer


1983, Dhaka, Bangladesh



Based in


About Munem Wasif

Munem Wasif is a documentary photographer, who graduate of Pathshala - the South Asian Institute of Photography. Wasif started his journalistic career as a feature photographer for the Daily Star, a leading English daily in Bangladesh. Following that, he worked as a staff photographer for two years with DrikNEWS, an international news photography agency. Now, he is represented by Agence VU.

Wasif’s prime area of interest revolves around socio-political documentaries. His photographs have been published in numerous national and international publications including Le Monde, Himal Southasian, Asian Geographic, Photo District News, Issue Magazine, Zonezero, Forum, pdfx12, Tiffinbox, Daily Star, Daily New Age, Daily New Nation, and Daily Shomokal.

In 2008, Wasif was selected as one of the 30 emerging photographers Photo District News, USA. In 2007, he was selected for the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass in the Netherlands. He won an Honorable Mention in 2007 All Roads Photography Program by the National Geographic Society. He also won first prize in the Konkurs Fotografii Prasowej for his extensive work on tea garden workers.

Additionally, he has won two bronze prizes in the China International Press Photo. His work has been exhibited worldwide, including the Anchor photo festival in Cambodia; the International Photography Biennial of the Islamic World in Iran; the Fotofreo- festival of photography in Australia; the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in Japan; and Getty Image Gallery in England.