Salt in the Wound
Death by tiger attacks, unemployment, kidnapping and hostage situations, cyclones, flooding, infertile soil and inadequate housing are only some of the consequences Gabura people deal with to give the world shrimp on their pizza.
Shrimp is one of the most popular forms of seafood on the planet with approximately 5 million tons being produced every year. Bangladesh is one of the world’s top ten producers of shrimp exporting predominately to the United States, Europe and Japan. Around a third of the shrimp that is consumed worldwide is being produced in on land fields pumped with salt water rather than being caught naturally. This is due to government restrictions preventing the use of rivers to farm naturally.
Gabura is a shrimp-producing island located in the far southwest of Bangladesh. Home to a few thousand where the water is limitless but drinkable water is extremely limited.
For many years floods and the rising number of shrimp farms have been the major factors pouring heavily salted water inland resulting in the deterioration of homes, lives, agriculture, food supplies and fresh water. Rice farming which once was the primary source of sustaining this village has been ruined and replaced by these farms allowing greedy landowners to sack the majority of people who originally worked the land and paying his remaining employees less than $2.30 per day. Shifting the islands focus from sustainability to capitalism.
As for the now unemployed farmers heading deep into the Sundarban (the largest mangrove in the world) to gather fresh fish have the encroaching dangers of pirates and the veracious Royal Bengal Tiger to deal with.
With the rising number of shrimp farms contributing to the demise of employment. Those left without work must turn to the surrounding rivers to fish for survival. This places a greater competition in these waters and causes fisherman to travel deeper and deeper into the Sundarban.
One gentleman I met showed me the scars left behind from one tiger he came in contact with. His mouth was pulled completely over to where it now sits where his right cheek used to. And his left eye is simply a black hole slightly larger than a golf ball. He tells me it’s not the young and quick tigers you have to worry about. It is the older slower ones who can no longer catch their own prey and turn to the idle fisherman in their territory for survival. Another fisherman told me of witnessing a tiger playing like a kitten with only the torso of a man.
At two pm on September 25th 2009 cyclone Aila struck the village destroying everything in its path – killing many and flooding the land. All that remained was one pond unpolluted with salt water. This one pond is the only source of fresh water for the entire village. The chore of gathering safe drinking water for some requires trekking up to four miles twice a day across the harsh cracked ground. And for others this daily chore can be limited to only a few times a week if they have the right storage facilities.
With a soil deeply salinised shrimp owners took control allowing no hope for rice farms to every reproduce. Not only exploiting the land they exploit its people with dreadful working conditions and pay.
This was the second cyclone in as many years and one can only imagine it will not be the last with the tremendous effects of climate change. Immigration is on the lips of most, fleeing the mainland is a desirable option but it’s not a realistic one. Staying and fighting is the only thing they can do.
Aaron is a documentary photographer based in Perth, Western Australia. He obtained an undergraduate degree in Photography and Journalism from Edith Cowan University with brief international study periods at Arizona State University, USA and Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, Bangladesh. In 2012 he was awarded the winner of UNCOVER award recognising new Australian talent at the Perth Centre For Photography for his series BORDERLAND.