Making water integrity more visual

Written by Alexandra Malmqvist, WIN‘s communication and advocacy coordinator.

When working on the topic of corruption in the water sector on a daily basis, one can easily forget how complex and difficult this issue can be. The water sector is made up of such a wealth of different stakeholders and institutions. Corruption manifests itself in many different ways and has such a huge variety of impacts (most often impacting the poor or the marginalised). This makes it very difficult to put one’s finger on the exact root of the problem.

Storytelling and photography can play an important role in unravelling the complexity of the topic. The Water Integrity Network therefore organises an annual photo competition where we asked people to send us pictures that they have taken. The photographs tell stories of how these people understand the problem of water corruption. Depicting corruption through photography is not an easy task. Because of its very nature corruption often takes place in the dark and is often expressed within power relations between stakeholders. So how do you visually capture the meaning of something as hidden and undisclosed as corruption?

Corruption in water has repercussions on many aspects of daily life. It can, for example, hinder access to clean water to drink and to adequate toilet facilities but it can also have devastating consequences on food security. This year we asked the participants of our photo competition to send us images of integrity and/or corruption issues in water & food. We received a large number of competition entries with very interesting, and often sad, stories behind them. We would like to introduce some of the photographers here. More can be found on our homepage.

Agricultural effusion has caused a major pollution of water bodies in villages and hampered the food security for poor people. Increased use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has made the fresh water ponds and lakes polluted and harmed the lives of aquatic creatures and people who use this water for drinking and everyday needs.


The winner, Somennath Mukhophyay, was able to use his photo to show that agricultural effusion has led to water pollution and food insecurity. But the people in that community still have to use the water for their everyday needs. This problem is all too common.

Rural children cool off at a newly installed shallow in Murshidabad, West Bengal, India. Launching of massive programme for ground water lifting in an unplanned manner through a number of deep and shallow tube wells in the irrigation sector to cope with the demand of the “Green Revolution” led to severe water scarcity and arsenic contamination in different parts of the country. A study conducted last year revealed that over 60 million people in West Bengal, India and its neighbouring country Bangladesh are affected by arsenic. About eight million children in West Bengal are drinking water that contains more than the maximum permissible limit (50Mug/l) set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for arsenic.


Mass production of food and lack of involvement of the citizens to express their issues can lead to toxic water polluting common water sources or to water sources being redirected and used mainly or even solely for the production of food, bypassing the needs of local citizens. The changing climate also leads to a fluctuating availability of natural food resources, for example fish, and lack of proper planning can cause great risks of food insecurity in many communities around the world. Through their photos, many participants wanted to highlight the exclusion of everyday citizens in water planning and food production.

Fishing in the traditional way : ‘Shilabati’  is a rain fed river of Eastern India. Many fishermen depend on this river for fishing in rainy season. But in the other seasons this river dries up completely. The fishermen are unable to use their boats in the shallow water for fishing in the dry seasons. In the dry seasons they go down to the river bed level and use hand net for fishing in traditional way.


One of WIN’s goals is to improve participation in the water sector. Participation is a great opportunity to involve regular water users to share their concerns and problems with us and with the wider water sector so that they can be part of the solutions and so that their concerns are taken into account and addressed. This is also why I find this photo competition important. It has the possibility of giving a voice to those who are not often able to express their views and concerns. The competition gives them a platform to explain their perceptions of the problems.

In Stockholm, during the World Water Week where the 10 shortlisted photos will be exhibited, we’ll have the opportunity to speak to the winner to hear more about the story he is telling through his picture and the role of photography.

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2 responses to “Making water integrity more visual”

  1. Albu Mihai says :

    Oh God, You managed to ruin my day with that photo in which water is polluted

  2. lkwander says :

    Thank you for bringing issues of water security and justice to the forefront in new ways – and through use of imagery. Our lab works in freshwater ecology and conservation, and recently participated in a publication about ‘Freshwaters in the Public Eye’ – which suggests that our conservation awareness is guided by the dominant images in media (these tend to be marine). Although the publication focuses on fisheries, as you note above, this is strongly tied to sustainable food supplies around the world.

    Lauren Kuehne

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