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Rio Conventions Calendar 2005


Photos by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

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Fish market at Saint-Louis, SENEGAL
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In the Senegalese economy, fish holds second place in exportable riches, after ground nuts, and is an essential element in the national diet. Although certain coastal zones are heavily involved in commercial fishing, others remain little exploited except for local consumption. Fishing with canoes still predominates, being well-suited to the material and human context, low-cost in terms of equipment and operating expenses, and extraordinarily adaptable. But there is competition today from industrial fishing. The victims of the race for productivity between the two methods are the fish, whose numbers off the coast of Senegal are quickly diminishing.

 
Flooded village south of Dacca, BANGLADESH
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With 850 inhabitants per square kilometer, Bangladesh is the most densely populated nation in the world, three times more so than India and seven times more than China. It is also one of the poorest countries, with a GNP of $260 per inhabitant. Situated on a very fertile but extremely low-lying deltaic plain with some 300 waterways flowing through it, Bangladesh has always had to face up to the devastating flood waters of the great Himalayan rivers, the Ganges and Brahmaputra. During the summer monsoon it is not unusual for two-thirds of the country to be under water. The flooding has become more serious as a result of the deforestation of the Himalayas, notably in Nepal. Agriculture, on which four-fifths of the population depends for a living, has reduced the vegetation cover (which used to limit the extent of floods) to less than 10 percent. Every year these floods claim numerous lives and render one-quarter of the population homeless. The worst disasters, such as those in 1970 and 1991, occur when cyclones pass through accompanied by exceptionally high tides, resulting in several hundred thousand deaths. Bangladesh is at particularly high risk from the increasing frequency of tropical storms and slow rise in sea level that are accompanying global climate change.
 
Dunes east of Nazca, Ica, PERU
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Between the Pacific Ocean and the first slopes of the Andes Cordillera lies a narrow, 2,300-kilometer band of coastal desert, which continues on further south into the Atacama Desert of Chile. The cold Humboldt ocean current flowing up from southern Chile cools and stabilizes the coastal air masses, which cannot rise up to the slopes of the mountains. For at least half the year an intense fog, the garua, forms, causing high humidity, but rarely accompanied by rain. This climate stability is disrupted every four to seven years by arrival of the warm current known as El Niño, "the child" (referring to the infant Jesus). Around Christmas, when warming of the surface waters creates a strong convection over the equatorial Pacific, trade winds die down and allow a warm current to pass through to the coast of Peru, bringing with it torrential rain that causes serious damage. Without the upwelling of the cold, nutrient-rich water, the anchovy banks disappear, devastating the fishing industry. Although it has its roots in the Pacific Ocean, the El Niño phenomenon can affect weather on a global scale.
 
Fishermen in Lake Patzcuaro, Michoacan state, MEXICO
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North of the Sierra Madre del Sur lies Lake Patzcuaro, on whose shores live the Tarasco and Purepecha Indians. They are praised for their traditional crafts, and they also make a living from fishing and farming on the surrounding hills. These large, dragonfly-shape nets are used to catch the pecito, a whitefish whose flesh is highly prized. Pecito is now becoming scarce as a result of overfishing but especially because of changes in agricultural methods in the surrounding land. Deforestation and the abandonment of traditional farming techniques such as the use of terraces and crop rotation are destabilizing the soil. The earth no longer stays in place, and during the rainy season it washes off the hillsides and into the lake below. Moreover, fertilizers are entering the waters of the lake, where algae and water plants proliferate at the expense of fish. The local inhabitants are now replanting trees on the hills, and building low walls around the fields, in an effort to retain the earth. The livelihood of the communities around the lake depends on this: some have seen half their population migrate to other areas as a result of exhaustion of local resources.
 
Well at Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh, INDIA
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The Great Mogul Akbar, emperor of India, built the city of Fatehpur Sikri in 1573 to celebrate his victory over the afghans. He installed his court magnificently in red sandstone palaces built on a rocky plateau, 38 kilometers from the imperial city of Agra. Fatehpur Sikri has often been described as Versailles to Agra's Paris. The similarity ends there, however, for Fatehpur Silkri was abandoned 15 years after it was completed. This was probably due to exhaustion of ground water supplies, which were used to maintain parks and fill pools ? as testified by the depth of the well now used by farmers. Water consumption in India is greater than the natural replenishment of ground water; consequently, the water table has fallen by between 1 and 3 meters over 75 percent of the country. This deficit is endangering India's agriculture, and is a threat to lakes, rivers, and other wetland ecosystems.
 
Pedestrians in the streets of Tokyo, Honshu, JAPAN
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Formerly known as Edo, the city was renamed Tokyo, or eastern capital, by the emperor Meiji in 1868. With 28 million inhabitants, Tokyo is now the world's biggest city, stretching over a radius of 140 kilometers along the coast. Repeatedly destroyed by fires, earthquakes, and by bombing during World War II, Tokyo is constantly undergoing change and boasts many bold architectural projects. But beyond the great arteries, beyond the sky laced with freeways is hidden a Tokyo of villages, with individual houses and small buildings, where the pedestrian and the bicycle reign. In a constant transition from anonymous "megalopolis" to convivial neighbourhood, Tokyo continues to surprise, with its houses lacking an address, its safety (the crime rate is among the world's lowest), and the civic sense of its inhabitants, who will restore to its owner property lost in a shop, train, or metro carriage.
 
Kebili Oasis. Nefzaoua, TUNISIA
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Kebili is the principal oasis of Nefzaoua, in southern Tunisia. Surrounded by sand, this fertile zone is irrigated, like all oases, by an outpouring of the ground water which gives birth to many springs. Motor pumps used to exploit ground water enabled farmers to expand and multiply irrigated areas, transforming the pre-desert savannah into a modern agricultural space. But the shallow ground water supplies quickly ran dry, and when deeper layers are drilled, they in turn also ran dry. The dash ahead, or rather down, will soon come to an end. What has been overlooked is that some water supplies are nonrenewable. It is not so much a matter of the desert advancing as the savannah is being degraded by human activity. The abandoned areas are invaded by small sand dunes driven by the wind. Gradually the dunes link up, like moth-holes in a garment, until there is nothing left but desert. Natural and human causes thus join together in advancing the Sahara. In the Sahel, to the south, similar activities produce similar effects.
 
The eye of the Maldives, atoll of North Mali, MALDIVES
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The eye of the Maldives is a faro, a coral formation on a rocky base that has sunk, concealing all but a ring-shape reef that encircles a shallow lagoon. Coral can only form in water of a relatively narrow temperature range (20°C to 30°C), and thus atolls develop principally in tropical and some subtropical regions. The lowest country in the world, with a high point not exceeding 2.5 meters, the Maldives archipelago has suffered the devastating effect of several tidal waves and is one of the countries at the most risk from rising sea levels caused by climate change. Locally, dike projects have also begun. Its 26 large atolls include 1,190 islands, nearly 300 of which are inhabited permanently or seasonally visited by tourists. After the construction of the first resort on the island of Kurumba in 1972, tourism in the Maldives expanded rapidly: 80 resorts exist today and 300,000 tourists visit each year. Tourism is the world's leading industry. In 2000 the global total was almost 700 million tourists, and tourism yielding $476 billion in revenues. As tourism grows, it is essential to ensure that countries realize an economic advantage from tourism without destroying their natural and cultural patrimony.
 
Tractor in a field near Bozeman, Montana, UNITED STATES
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Montana has a surface area of 380,000 square kilometers and a population of fewer than one million. The state, nicknamed "Big Sky Country," with its landscape of canyons, mountain ranges, and impenetrable forests, remains partially unexplored, and its few towns are scattered over vast distances. Like Bozeman, named after a gold prospector, most of Montana's towns were founded in the nineteenth century by prospectors seeking gold, silver, or copper. These immense spaces produce amazing yields in crops intended in great part for the world market. The modern and mechanized agriculture of the United States has made it the largest exporter of agricultural produce in the world.
 
Caravan of dromedaries near Nouakchott, MAURITANIA
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In Mauritania as in all countries bordering the Sahara, the dromedary is the domestic species best adapted to the arid environment. Known as "the ship of the desert," it can go without water for long periods, even for several months in the winter if it is on a good grazing land. In the summer, however, the heat and exertion are such that it can only survive for a few days without drinking (albeit in conditions in which a human being would die of dehydration within 24 hours). The reserves of fat in its single hump provide the animal with both energy and water. Other unique adaptations allow it to conserve body water and it can, for instance, withstand excessive increases in body temperature without sweating. In Mauritania, the Moors rear the dromedary for its milk and meat as well as for its leather and wool. At the end of the 1990s, the country's dromedary population was said to number about one million.
 
Working the fields between Phitsanulok and Sukhothai, THAILAND
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The kingdom of Sukhothai, whose name means, "dawn of happiness," developed in the twelfth century and was the first great Thai kingdom of the center of Siam. Between the valleys of the Yom and the Nan, the plains are given over to growing rice. Small and medium-sized farms using very little machinery harvest their crop twice a year. Despite a fairly low yield of 1.5 to 2 tons of rice per hectare, rice takes up three-quarters of the country's arable land and is its chief export; Thailand alone supplies 40 percent of the world market. This success has been achieved at the price of very rapid expansion of the areas devoted to agriculture, to the detriment of the forest. The trend has accelerated since 1960, with crops being grown on stubble. In 1961 the forest occupied 57 percent of the country's surface area, but by 1992 it covered only 20 percent. Since the disastrous floods of 1989, Thailand has prohibited forest-clearing and has been importing wood from Laos, which in turn is cutting into its forest resource. Thus step by step, parts of Asia are being deprived of the forests that once stabilized its rainfall and climate, as well as its soil.
 
Boat in the marshes of the Okavango Delta, BOTSWANA
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The mokoro, a delicate traditional craft made from a hollowed-out tree trunk, is the only means of transport local people use to negotiate the marshy labyrinth where southern Africa's third-longest river meets its end. After a 1,300-kilometer journey that began in Angola, the Okavango ends here, in the north of Botswana, in a vast inland delta covering some 15,000 square kilometers. It will never reach the sea, because the 12 billion cubic meters of water it carries each year are gradually soaked up by the Kalahari Desert, or evaporated in the dry air. Before disappearing, the river forms a large wetland, inhabited by a prodigious number of wild animals. The rapid shrinkage of wetlands and estuaries is a worldwide problem: during the last century half the world's wetlands have disappeared. Yet they play a central part in human communities, notably by controlling floods and preserving drinking water supplies.
 
Icebergs off the Adelie coast, ANTARCTICA
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These drifting icebergs recently detached from the glacial platforms of Antarctica, as can be seen from their flat shape and the ice strata that are still visible on their jagged sides. Like all 2,000 cubic kilometers of ice that detach every year from Antarctica, these icebergs will slowly be eroded by the winds and waves before disappearing. Antarctica is a place of extremes: temperatures reach as low as -70°C, and winds reach speeds of 300 kilometers an hour. The continent has an area of 14 million square kilometers, representing a substantial amount of the freshwater reserves of the planet. Antarctica has been governed since 1959 by the Washington Treaty, which gives it international status and restricts its uses to scientific activities. The Russian station at Vostok has extracted, from a depth of 3,623 meters, chunks of the ice that have made possible the reconstruction of more than 420,000 years of history of the climate and atmospheric composition. The atmosphere's current content of carbon dioxide ? the main gas responsible for global warming ? is higher than it has been for 160,000 years.
 

 


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