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He documented climate change... when others were just talking about it The assignment was to take photos for a book about the daily lives of children in Malawi for Danish Red Cross. Two years earlier, in 2003, photographer Jakob Dall had been on a similar job in Uganda. The only difference between the jobs, it seemed, was location. Or so he thought... This time, what Jakob witnessed was the impact of climate change on the lives of his subjects. It was no longer about the quality of life from day to day, but about survival - for the children and for their families. “It should have been raining when I visited. But, at the time, there was a drought so bad that the family I followed was in desperate search of food. The only meat they had was from mice which the children managed to chase out of holes in the ground. They would cut the throat of the mice with a blade of grass. They didn’t even bring a knife. Their living conditions touched me deeply,” says Jakob Dall. Climate change wasn’t a new topic by 2005. It was talked about and written about with the assumption that the problem would affect us some time in the future. “But the future was already here. Climate change existed in real time for the people I met. They were already suffering the consequences.” Jakob Dall grew up in Rold Skov (Rold Forest) in Northern Jutland with parents who subscribed to National Geographic. He developed a close connection to nature and animals at that time, so much so that he began to photograph what he loved from a very young age. After graduating as a photo journalist from the Danish School of Journalism in 1998, Jakob started working for the photo group “Fotogruppen 2. Maj”. One of his first assignments was to travel to Kosovo for Danish Red Cross for which he freelances regularly to this day. He has also worked for Danish newspapers Berlingske and Information. But it was the job in Malawi that would form his career. Once he returned home, Jakob felt compelled to learn more about climate change and its impact on people. Since then, he has worked persistently to document how climate change influences people’s living conditions and in many cases completely destroys their livelihoods.

A man with a mission Starting with the first trip to Malawi and through the years leading up to the climate summit COP 15 (held in Copenhagen in November 2015), Jakob has traveled the world to document climate change for an exhibition project known as ‘Climate Change Documentary’. This body of work has so far been represented by five large exhibitions in Denmark and as an 120-picture slideshow. The slideshow, in particular, was positioned at COP15 to make an impact. Shown on a big screen at Bella Center’s exhibition hall, the slideshow rolled in a space where decision makers would meet during their breaks. ”Many of the participants were touched by what they saw. Several of them knew the areas from before they were affected by climate change, and for me it was important to get the message across, that the changes were already heavily impacting vulnerable communities,” says Jakob Dall. The photographer feels obliged to make others aware of the problems. ”With my photos, I can hopefully contribute by aiming the spotlight on the problems that affect local communities around the world. When I travel and work for different organisations, I see the initiatives they put to work using my photos for campaigns to collect money. Through that, I’m contributing to help.” After almost 15 years of focusing on climate change and traveling to the areas affected by it, Jakob Dall freely admits that he has become a man with a mission. ”I have a great passion for showing what climate change entails and at some point it has become a mission because I want to help make a difference. I read a lot of international news that is never covered by Danish media and every time, I feel the urge to spread that news. That’s also why I often travel to other places than where a disaster has just struck and already gets media attention. I’m trying to portray the quiet disasters where, for instance, people’s vital crops have been reduced to a tenth because of drought or destroyed by floods and their consequences. If I can give the affected a voice I have accomplished something,” says the climate photographer.

Even the camels had succumbed On his travels, Jakob has witnessed countless forms of distress and need resulting from climate change. Still, some experiences have left a deeper impact on him than others. One experience that has made a lasting impression is a trip to both Kenya and the Horn of Africa in 2011. The purpose of the trip was to show how climate change has impacted populations in bordering areas in the northeast towards Somalia and in the northwest towards Uganda where an entire region was affected by drought. Yet, he was not prepared for what he saw. By the end of a twelve hour drive, almost all life had disappeared before his eyes. Passing by one village after next, the landscape showed itself to e more and more dry, with animals - cows and giraffes, laying dead by the roadside. Even hardy camels were the victims to the drought. ”The area had turned into a desert where in some places the only thing people had to eat were roots and very bitter fruits that would otherwise never be considered edible. The desperation in these people lining up to have their yellow water jugs filled was so great that a man had to keep the line in check with a long stick. Meanwhile, the few camels still alive proved to be the only valuables these people had left to sell, even though they were worth almost nothing on the market. One buyer told me, he couldn’t be sure if the camels would even be alive by the time he returned to his village,” says Jakob Dall. He adds, “With just a bit of technology and money, solar- driven pump stations served to help, but they were often located in dangerous areas given their proximity to bordering Somalia where Al-Shabaab held domain. The most devastated areas did receive relief from international organizations, but the relief workers had before them a huge and logistically difficult job given the scale of the drought that stretched across the entire Horn of Africa. There were so many villages and enclaves of pastoralists in need of aid, that it took forever to get the help all the way out where I was.”

in turn meant that rainwater was less useful to farmers and cultivators. By the time Jakob landed, there was actually no rain to be seen while rivers had completely dried up. The only water available could be sourced from man-made holes which had been dug out twenty years earlier by Danida, the Danish Foreign Ministry’s aid program, during a development project to form dikes. These constructions now served as water reservoirs and fishing lakes. ”After having seen my photos, a group of Red Cross-workers traveled to Mali and subsequently published a guide in English for International Red Cross on what could be done. These are local stories with concrete solutions to be implemented elsewhere, and it feels amazing that my work helped personify climate change and its impact on people instead of, as is often the case, climate change just being about numbers,” says Jakob Dall. While he is regularly hired by the UN and other nongovernmental agencies, and while his images continue to run in climate reports and international magazines and newspapers, Jakob Dall hasn’t tired of photographing climate change. On the contrary, he plans to produce a new climate change documentary and to publish a book in order to expand upon climate change problems -- and solutions.

Remember everyday life Jakob’s most current project means he continues to plan new travels and commit his time. It not only requires a lot of work to find funding, it also demands that he remain continuously up-to-date with current events. He does this by reading climate reports, local newspapers and magazines, and especially by reading publications that few in the Western world consider as sources of information.

It does make a difference

When he visits places, Jakob’s approach is to get as close to the people impacted by climate change as possible and then to describe how even small changes affect their lives. That’s why he always spends several days in the same place and why he often sleeps locally, sometimes just bringing a mosquito net with him.

Throughout his career as a climate photographer, Jakob Dall has worked and traveled for a number of organizations – from Mali to the Madives and Bangladesh, from Greenland to Svalbard and Ireland. It has earned him a number of prestigious awards including the World Press Photo Award for “Best Magazine Feature in Picture of the Year International, People in the News” and the European EISA Award for a photo essay about the impacts of climate change in Ethiopia. But not only has it won him awards, Jakob Dall knows that his photos have actually contributed to making a difference.

”For me the exciting photo almost always has people in it and is taken in a location where people are clearly being impacted by their changing environment. It is often the case that the poorest are impacted first and hardest. It’s their everyday life I want to photograph and not just people lying at death’s door. Everyday life is what people in the rest of the world can relate to and be touched by. I’m trying to show an authentic picture of the living condi-tions of those impacted. That’s why, when traveling, it’s important for me to stay in the same place for a longer period of time,” says Jakob Dall.

In 2009 Jakob visited Mali. Before his visit, the rainy seasons had already become shorter and more intense which

His advice is: Spend time, be authentic and keep your eyes open to small changes.

GREENLAND On thin ice In Greenland, traditional dogslede hunters find that sea ice now breaks more easily when driving their dog sleds than in past winters. Likewise, areas made of sea ice are decreasing in span while the ice is thinner during the winter months than it was before the year 2000. In February 2009, there were two separate drowning accidents where very experienced dog sled drivers drove through the thin ice and were pulled down with their dogs. The weather system has changed in Greenland from mainland climate to coastal climate due to melting glacier ice. Meanwhile, the Ringseal hunting season for both polar bears and hunters is now shorter due to increases in temperature.

UGANDA Central Africa flooding In central Africa, the normally dry months of July and August became extraordinary wet. When the rainy season started in September 2007, there was so much excess water that soil could no longer absorb it. Rivers ended up flooding huge areas in the low laying farmland. As a direct consequence of this flooding, the harvest was destroyed and people had to leave their homes. Livestock drowned, houses collapsed and the risk of a cholera epidemic quickly spread.

ZIMBABWE The empty basket The impact of climate change in Zimbabwe is related to water supply and food security. The country is naturally prone to droughts, but these droughts have become more recurrent over the last two decades. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s geographical location in relation to the equator makes it vulnerable to shifting rainfall patterns and water resources availability. Zimbabwe is also vulnerable to climate-driven health threats including vector-borne diseases such as malaria. These health threats are added to by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Adaptation measures to address climate change impacts are thus required to reduce impact in key economic sectors, especially agriculture.

MALDIVES Devil in paradise The Maldives will be the first country in the world to succumb to rising sea levels due to climate change. The country, which consists of a number of atolls, struggles with rising sea levels and the consequential erosion of the coastline. In addition, warmer sea temperatures influence the water’s acidity levels leading to the destruction of the surrounding coral reefs that naturally protect the islands from large waves. On top of that, the Maldives struggle with rising energy consumption and waste problems driven by the large number of tourists who visit the islands.

MALAWI The lives of children Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world with hope for better times resting on the shoulders of it’s children. Lack of rain has led to hunger in Malawi, forcing the country’s children to find sustenance by means of mouse-hunting in arid fields where there is barely any life. They chase these mice out of holes in the ground, catch and kill them, and then eat them from tail to skull. Malawi’s children have traumatizing memories of those first experiences of hunger’s symptoms - loss of energy and a consistent need to sleep. They pray for rain to come. But, their hopes and prayers seem futile due to the conseqences of high population growth, rapid deforestation and widespread soil erosion. Malawi’s agriculturally-based economy is particularly susceptible to negative consequences of climate change.

NEPAL The third pole is melting With its unique landscape made of low valleys and the world’s highest mountains, the Himalaya’s, Nepal is particularly exposed to climate change. During the summer period, the melting of Himalayan ice masses continues to increase. Starting at an altitude of 8,000 meters, it is not hard to imagine the enormous impact of the melted ice by the time it reaches the valleys situated just 120 meters above sea level. Nepal’s melted ice comes roaring down to flood it’s lowlands, and with this water follows huge amounts of sand, mud and shale. Nepal’s fertile fields are transformed into useless sandbanks that only increase flooding the following year. While the effects of climate change on the world’s highest peaks means catastrophic consequences for the Nepalese, these ramifications extend far beyond Nepal’s borders. 1.8 billion Asians depend on the water which originates from the Himalayas. If the glaciers shrink significantly in the ‘third pole’, it will lead to cataclysmic water malaise with new weather patterns emerging to devistate Nepalese agriculture-based livelihoods.

USA The Californian drought From 2011 to 2017, California was hit by an extraordinarily persistent drought - the most intense in Californian history. The drought caused major economic losses in agriculture with about 102 million trees dying as a direct effect of lack of rain. The cause of the drought is attributed to a staggeringly high air pressure that spanned across the Pacific ridge and which prevented usual heavy winter storms from reaching the state. Lack of snow in the mountains and lack of rain in the central valley exsiccated water reservoirs which in turn forced restrictions on water use and denied cities access to water for extended periods of time. Natural fires ravaged the state while forests and houses burned to the ground.

MALI Waiting for rain The girl who lies almost lifeless in her mother’s arms has no name. Some parts of Mali have the highest number of infant mortalities in the world with one in five children not reaching the age of five. For these exact reasons, children are not being named before the age of three. Desertification is a major problem for the millions of people living in the Sahel belt that stretches across Africa. It makes living conditions extremely difficult for the families. Changes in climate are especially evident in Mali where resources have disappeared due to desertification, drought, floods, unstable weather systems and a decrease in rainfall. These factors have caused an upsurge in food insecurity and has decreased the chance for survival of Mali’s children. As farmers look to the sky, Imams pray in their clay Mosques for rain to come.

MOZAMBIQUE Drought and floods The impact of climate change on Mozambique is evident with its shorter and more intense rainy seasons. An increase in flash floods has lead to the destruction of crops on a local level, leaving people vulnerable to malnutrition. Meanwhile, due to warmer sea temperatures in the Indian Ocean, cyclones have also grown in force thus escalating the magnitude of the floods and catastrophic devastation. The effects of these disasters are further amplified by the fact that the country is already weakened by poverty, food insecurity and disease.


800 years flood Several days of windstorms brought with them a huge volume of rain that caused damage and massive flooding across much of Ireland. In Cork, Ireland’s second-largest city, almost half the city lacked running water for ten days when a sewage treatment plant drowned under several meters of flood water. The Irish police and members of the Irish Armed Forces supplied drinking water to thousands of people who had to stand in long queues for their portion. Flood risk is an urgent challenge in several Irish and European cities and is intensified by climate change which causes sea levels to rise, changes storm patterns, and increases average annual rainfall.

BANGLADESH Survivial on the edge On May 25, 2009, cyclone Aila struck the coastal areas of Bangladesh with wind speeds of up to 90 km/h. Heavy rains combined with high tides resulted in storm surges that breached embankments intended to protect people from the ocean. Entire villages were destroyed by with nearly five million individuals being impacted. In the Bay of Bengal, more than 300 individuals died that day. Half a year later some 30,000 people in Gabura Union Island still had no access to clean drinking water. The old pumps worked, but the water they contained was mixed with flooded seawater. On a daily basis, the island is engulfed by the tide due to collapsed embankments. UN experts predict that Bangladesh will be severely affected by climate change given its position below sea level. It is estimated that the country will lose at least eight percent of its area due to increase in sea levels by 2050. In addition, the melting of Himalayan glaciers is expected to cause major problems in terms of securing sufficient water supplies for the 150 million people currently living in Bangladesh.

KENYA The last pastoralists The 2011 drought that spanned across the Horn of Africa had a devastating impact on some areas in northern Kenya killing the majority of animals belonging to local herdsmen. Driven by hunger and distress, clans attacked each other when crossing into the other’s territory to steal livestock and get access to water for their animals. The worst-hit suffered from malnutrition and diarrhea. I witnessed children on the edge of survival as I met them lying on the sand in the bush. It’s an ongoing fight to save the lives of children and adults who are the victims of climate change and water conflicts.

Profile for Lux Magazine

Lux Vol. 05  

Photographer Jakob Dall. Climate change documentary . Jakob Dall have since 2007 traveled the world documenting the impact, climate change h...

Lux Vol. 05  

Photographer Jakob Dall. Climate change documentary . Jakob Dall have since 2007 traveled the world documenting the impact, climate change h...