Secret Histories | “Water Stories” Reveals the Global Water Crisis Happening Now

Photo: Shrimp fishing, Lake Hong, Hubei Province, China, 2015 © Mustafah Abdulaziz : WWF-UK

“Water Is Life!” is the cry that has been heard around the world as the First Peoples of the United States gather in solidarity, 7,000 deep, to protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Their cry reminds us of a horrific fact: though 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, only 3% of that water can be consumed by the 7.5 billion people who live on the planet.

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It’s a telling fact that for all of our technological progress, creating viable means of filtering salt water for human consumption has not been prioritized. Instead the focus has been placed on global industrialization without much concern for the hazards it creates. On September 15, 2016, a state of emergency was declared in Alabama and Georgia after 250,000 gallons spilled from a pipeline in Shelby County, AL. This is just the most recent example of a devastating trend that happens all too frequently, and operates under the guise of virtual media silence.

Bewatoo, Tharparkar, Pakistan, 2013 © WaterAid/ Mustafah Abdulaziz

Bewatoo, Tharparkar, Pakistan, 2013 © WaterAid/ Mustafah Abdulaziz

With the twin engines of industrialization and population expansion, water quality is declining at an unprecedented rate, down more than 76% since the 1970s. More than 650 million people around the world do not have access to a source of clean water, while more than 2.3 billion live without access to basic sanitation. The United Nation predicts a 40% shortfall in the water supply by 2030.

In response, HSBC has partnered with Earthwatch, WaterAid, WWF, and local project partners to create Waterhub, a five-year, $100M program that aims to provide and protect water sources around the world. Launched in 2012, the project is entering into its final year, and has organized Water Stories: The global water crisis in pictures, an exhibition of photographs by Mustafah Abdulaziz as part of its on-going outreach efforts.

The water pump in Osukputu, Benue, Nigeria, 2015 © WaterAid: Mustafah Abdulaziz

The water pump in Osukputu, Benue, Nigeria, 2015 © WaterAid: Mustafah Abdulaziz

Now on view as part of the Photoville festival in Brooklyn, through October 12, 2018, Water Stories is an open-air exhibition that is free to the public. Featuring 68 images presented in massive light boxes along the East River, the exhibition can be seen from both Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Abdulaziz traveled to nine countries including Brazil, Nigeria, Pakistan, India, China, and the United States to create a body of work that speaks to the necessity of preserving clean water on earth. His photographs capture the stories of the people and their land living under this plight, whether it’s the poisoned marigold fields of Kanpur, India, or the city of São Paulo, Brazil, where two polluted rivers provide water to 21 million people.

A Citizen Science Leader tests the East River at Astoria Park, New York, USA, 2016 © Earthwatch: Mustafah Abdulaziz

A Citizen Science Leader tests the East River at Astoria Park, New York, USA, 2016 © Earthwatch: Mustafah Abdulaziz

But Abdulaziz does not take a pessimistic view of our future; his photographs offer hope, contrasting scenes of devastation with scenes of salvation, letting us know it’s not too late—if we act now. For years people have casually said, “World War III will be fought over water,” not realizing how close we are to living into this reality. Water Stories is a searing reminder: Water Is Life.


Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.