'A regional symptom of a global problem': Climate change in Senegal

Published 9:08 PM ET, Sun December 6, 2015
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This past March, Greta Rybus spent a month working on a photo series in Saint-Louis, Senegal. This photo shows Aye Sarr at the helm of his large, wooden fishing boat. Most fishermen live in Guet Ndar, an overpopulated area coping with rising sea levels. Greta Rybus
Women gather the catch from fishermen who often spend many days at sea. Fishing in the seas off West Africa can include many complicated struggles, from changing seas and winds to increasing offshore fishing from competing international industries who trawl the Atlantic. Greta Rybus
Herder Idda Ka is now in his 70s and no longer travels long distances with his herds. When rains are scarce and there is no greenery for grazing, he feeds them "tiendé," little pods or beans shaken from trees. "From observation we can predict the nature of the coming season, using our own signs through trees, insects, the sight of some animals or birds, the sky's color, its blankness, its murkiness," he told Rybus. "Years before, it rained well, but sometimes it can be irregular. Last season we experienced misfortune. It rained only two times, just two." Greta Rybus
Rybus' photo series focuses on the effects of climate change on two communities: the coastal community of fishermen and the inland community of herders and farmers. Here, a businessman assesses the damage along the crumbling coast. Greta Rybus
While there is too much water on the coastline, causing erosion and wiping out homes, Rybus said that inland, there is too little water. Greta Rybus
Those who live inland rely heavily on the rainy season. "When there is a delay on the rainy season or rain shortage, we get together to pray," farmer Diarra Diop told Rybus. "We go pray together at the mosque near the village water tap." Greta Rybus
A man looks out at the sea through a door that once led to another room of his house. He and his family moved furniture out the front door, while the sea chewed at the back. Greta Rybus
The notion of too little and too much is achieved aesthetically and compositionallly in Rybus' photo series. She notes how some of the photos feel very sparse, while others feel very claustrophobic. Greta Rybus
People living both on the coastline and inland have a strong relationship with and awareness of their environment. In this photo, two men look into a well, which was discovered to be too salty for farm use. Greta Rybus
Women and children rush to fill bags with chunks of concrete and dirt, used to fortify the rapidly eroding coast. Greta Rybus
Rybus emphasized the importance of recognizing that while we may be discussing the climate, we are also discussing human lives. "Our life is cattle," Idda Ka told Rybus. "What we live by is cattle and the rain. They are our only riches, and they are so valuable to us." Greta Rybus
A particularly high tide eats away at the coastline, and while younger community members work to fortify the coast, a couple observes the unfolding damage. Rybus said the Senegalese government has been responding and paying very close attention to climate change and its effects on the nation. Greta Rybus
This photo shows empty food bowls for herd animals. With increasingly erratic and sparse rains, food supplies for herders dwindle. Greta Rybus
A young boy plays with a homemade toy boat. Like many boys in Guet Ndar, he began playing with boats as a child and will begin fishing before his childhood is over. "I was 9 when I began fishing," said fishing boat captain Baye Sarr. "Back then, Guet Ndar was different. According to the scientists, the sea level rises, but here we have a specific situation: every year, there is a period during which the sea rises and comes closer to the housing area. That time is called 'Lock.' Following the end of that period, the sea withdraws back and people call that time 'Ndey.' " Greta Rybus