© Munem Wasif / Agence VU / Courtesy Prix PictetShajhan Siraj and his brothers from Gabura race against the rising tide as they seek to launch their boats into the sea. The boats are laden with water which takes them between two and three hours to collect each day.
Bangladesh has a complex and increasingly difficult relationship with water. Among the factors contributing to this are climate change, catastrophic flooding, coastal erosion and the pollution of drinking wells by natural arsenic.

Now photographer Munem Wasif has brought to light another growing problem that is already affecting hundreds of thousands of people in the Satkhira region of south-west Bangladesh: increasingly salty groundwater.

See Wasif's images.

This rise in salinity has been caused by a shift from traditional agriculture to commercial shrimp farming. The latter can generate a lot of money for a fortunate few, but for most its consequences are disastrous. Once-fertile land turns to brackish water and local people lose access to drinking water and their livelihoods.

Wasif, who is Bangladeshi-born, has created a striking set of photographs that give insights into the resulting hardships faced by the people of Satkhira. This image captures the daily routine of Shajhan Shiraj and his brothers as they drag their boats across the mud in a three-hour journey to collect their cargo of fresh water. Similar journeys are becoming more frequent across the region as accessible drinking water becomes increasingly hard to obtain.

Wasif's photographs are the result of a commission awarded by Prix Pictet 2008, the world's first photography prize dedicated to sustainability. Its aim is to use the power of photographs to convey messages about pressing social environmental issues.

The theme for 2008 was "water", and the competition supported the UK-based charity Water Aid, which helps the world's poorest people gain access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene education. Water Aid is now working with the people of Satkhira to introduce much-needed water and sanitation facilities. The theme of the 2009 Prix Pictet is "earth", and the winner will be announced in October.


1. You can find this and other photographs by Munem Wasif in Salt Water Tears: Lives left behind in Satkhira, Bangladesh by Prix Pictet Ltd, Candlestar