Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

Mamta holds her daughter in the room she and her husband share with her extended family. Although Indian law restricts women younger than 18 from marrying, the tradition is so strong and enforcement is so lax that nearly half do so anyway, all but guaranteeing an early start to childbearing.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Members of the Egyptian army pray with protesters in Tahrir Square on Feb. 11, 2011, the day that President Hosni Mubarak bowed to popular pressure and agreed to step down. The protests were driven by numerous factors, including high unemployment, increasing poverty levels a large population of dissatisfied youth.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

High-rises sprawl in all directions in Shanghai, a city of 23 million that is under constant construction. Barring windy days like this one, the buildings often disappear in a haze of brown smog.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Barefoot children play in the sludge of the Tondo dump, where residents eke out a living by sifting through the refuse.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Yolanda Naz prepares a meal in the family's two-story shack. The bottom floor functions as kitchen and bathroom and is often infested by rats. The Philippines, an archipelago of 96 million people, has one of the fastest-growing populations in Asia.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

A young girl is led through mounds of trash in an area that many call home in Mumbai.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Even in the quiet season, women must share beds in the postnatal recovery room at Jose Fabella hospital.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

The sun lights up the towers of Quiapo Church in Manila. Following Vatican dictates, Philippine bishops oppose the pill, condoms, intrauterine devices and any other "artificial" measure to prevent pregnancy. Instead, they sanction only natural methods, such as abstinence during a woman's fertile time of the month.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Barring a breakthrough of some kind, India will again have to rely on handouts or imported grain to feed its multitudes.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Surjit Singh embraced the so-called Green Revolution in his youth, signing on to a new way of farming that introduced fertilizer, pesticides, hybrid seeds and groundwater pumped out with modern equipment. But such high-intensity agriculture has taken a toll: shrinking water tables, exhausted or salt-contaminated soils, resistant pests and plumes of fertilizer and pesticides in streams and aquifers.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Preschoolers sit with empty bowls as they wait for a porridge of lentils and rice provided by CARE. "We are doing the best we can," said Anup Murari Rajan, an officer with CARE India, which provides free meals at 32,000 community centers in Uttar Pradesh state. "These slums are increasing day by day."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

New arrivals wait to be admitted into Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp complex. The Somalis who reach it have fled war and hunger in their homeland -- only to discover an equally drought-plagued Kenya.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

A family's makeshift home at the Dadaab complex. Though the world produces enough food to sustain its 7 billion residents, hunger persists in developing countries because people can't afford to buy food or can't grow enough on their own. By midcentury, global production could be insufficient to feed everyone even in theory.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

A mug of spilled porridge seeps into the dry ground.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Two-year-old Saad Siyat, near death, gasps at the hospital at Dadaab's Ifo camp. When he arrived, he was suffering from pneumonia and chronic undernourishment -- in particular, a protein deficiency known as kwashiorkor. The name derives from a West African term for "rejected one," a child pushed from his mother's breast to make way for a newborn.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

A commuter train speeds past the Dharavi slum in Mumbai. Most of the world's population growth in the next several decades will occur in places least able to handle it.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Women line up at a mobile clinic in Samburu, Kenya, where the services include birth control and family planning education.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Abdul Wahid, one of 10 children of an Afghan electrician, had little education and few job prospects by the time he turned 18. Instead, he joined the Taliban, where he says he found not only income but respect. "My life got better," said Wahid, who wound up in Pul-e-Charkhi Prison outside Kabul after he was caught helping wire a car bomb.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Obaida Rahmati makes the trip to school from the Kabul shelter where she lives. When she was 9, her heroin-addicted father sold her to a neighbor, who planned to marry her as soon as she turned 12, a fate she narrowly escaped after her older sister helped rescue her. Although access to education for girls has improved since U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban regime in 2001, fewer than half of them attend school. Women and girls have little control over their fates in Afghanistan, a country deemed the most dangerous place to be a woman, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey of health experts. The reasons: gender-targeted violence, brutal poverty and abysmal healthcare.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Guo Tie Sheng fertilizes a field next to a coal-fired plant in Lingshi, Shanxi province, in the heart of China's coal belt. The country's growing use of coal is worrisome to climate scientists, who say that to avoid a potentially catastrophic rise in global temperatures, worldwide carbon dioxide emissions must be cut in half by 2050. China argues that it shouldn't be penalized given that the world's industrialized nations polluted their way to prosperity.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Workers tear out a street in Taiyuan to make way for something new. The nation is busily expanding its urban areas to accommodate the masses of people migrating from the countryside in search of a better life.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

A bicyclist rides past posters of trees in Beijing. The government has planted actual trees around the periphery of the city in an effort to control the dust that blows in from cleared land in outlying areas.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Wang Xixhan tends a small garden at his home in the shadow of a steel mill in Linfen. The ancient city, once known for its fruits and flowers, in recent years earned the World Bank's dubious distinction of most polluted city on Earth. After that rebuke, Chinese officials cracked down on some of the illegal coal mines in Linfen as well as its dirtiest coal-fired furnaces. Residents say things have improved: Vegetables will grow now and people's headaches and nausea have diminished.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Protesters demonstrate in Manama, Bahrain, one of the places affected by the "Arab Spring" unrest last year. About 80% of the world's civil conflicts since the 1970s have occurred in countries with young, fast-growing populations, known as "youth bulges," according to an analysis by the nonprofit Population Action International.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

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By Rick Loomis

Seven billion people.

That’s a hard number for most people to get their heads around.  But visiting both India and China for this story – which together have almost 40% of the world’s population – I got a pretty good start at fathoming just how many of us there really are.

China, the world’s most populous nation, has been trying to put the brakes on its population growth since the late 1970s.  India – already a mass of traffic, blaring horns and jam-packed trains – will soon jump ahead of China in total population and may reach more than 2 billion people on its own.

I’ve worked on two major projects with writer Ken Weiss during my tenure at The Times.  The first was a series titled “Altered Oceans” that dealt with the problems facing the world’s oceans. The second, this population series, explores some of the issues that Earth’s residents are facing as a result of our population explosion over a relatively recent span of time.  Both have given me reason to reevaluate how I live my own life.


Some of the biggest issues we face now and in the future are how to provide for life’s basic necessities, such as food and water.  It sounds simple, especially to us in the U.S., where most people have never wanted for either.  The U.S. is fairly unique in its accessibility to these basic resources, even for its poorest citizens. But in parts of Africa and other places around the world, the pursuit of water alone is more like a full-time job.  We turn the faucet and take it for granted that clean, drinkable water will always be there.  It’s not like that in many other places, where people – most often women and children – can spend hours walking to and from a well or other water source.

Many of us have heard from our parents about how times have changed since they were kids. So here goes my story. For about a year of my youth, my home in rural Florida had no running water or electricity. I did homework by the light of an oil lamp and showered in lake water sucked out by a gas pump. Even before this project began I felt like I had a unique understanding of how precious these simple things are and how appreciative we should be to have them. But through this project, I now find myself even more conscientious about a lot of things.

My short list includes:

• trying not to let any food spoil, and purchasing and consuming at a moderate rate
• taking shorter showers, using water less wastefully
• using canvas bags for groceries instead of paper or plastic
• turning lights off, unplugging unused appliances and chargers
• trying to better understand things from a more global perspective

In producing the videos, we spent hours holed up in an editing bay piecing them together.  In our cafeteria grabbing lunch, I would always answer “For here” when asked by the chef whether I needed a “to go” box for my sandwich.

This way I was assured I would get an actual plate. Back in the editing bay I would scarf the sandwich in a matter of minutes and then stack the plate with others from meals gone by.  When I got six or eight plates stacked in the office, I would cart them back to the cafeteria to insert them back into the fold.  This one little thing has saved countless single-use containers from clogging the system after holding my food for just a few minutes.

There are certainly many more lifestyle changes I probably should make, but we all have to begin somewhere.  And making myself more aware of the crisis confronting our planet is a start.

When I reflect on some of the high and low points of this journey, countless memories come to mind.  While in the Philippines, not a day passed without us encountering considerable numbers of impoverished people just trying to live through the day. Yolanda Naz and her family, featured in one of the videos, struck me in particular.  I live in a small home by American standards – a two-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot space shared by two people.  Yolanda’s entire family – 11 people – sleeps in a space that’s not much bigger than my bathroom. It was also in the Philippines that I saw one of the most amazing sights in my life – the birthing ward at Dr. Jose Fabella hospital in Manila.

Even in the quiet season, women must share beds in the postnatal recovery room at Jose Fabella hospital.  (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Up to that point, I had witnessed only two births. The first was when I photographed the birth of the child of fellow staff photographer Al Schaben, and the second was on a trip to Kenya for this same project.  So the day I walked into one of the busiest birthing wards in the world I was blown away.  Baby after baby was being delivered into the world and their collective crying filled my ears.

Even after Ken finished his reporting, I couldn’t bring myself to leave.  It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So while Ken compiled his notes back at the hotel, I stayed at the birthing ward into the night.  Over a span of several hours, I photographed about 40 babies being born.  Although it was breathtaking to see a life brought into this world, I also felt a tinge of sadness, as many of those kids may only know a life of constant struggle.

In India, I stood on top of a mountain of garbage – an unfortunate byproduct of our consumption. Amid the stench, barefoot young children navigated the muck as they competed against others to pick out anything recyclable the moment the non-stop parade of trash trucks dumped their load of refuse. When I left there, I had to replace my shoes because they were so putrid from the experience – the same experience that is a part of these children’s everyday lives. Suddenly, the choice to leave it behind seemed like a shameful luxury.

In Africa, the first trip we took for this story, we spent a few days in a refugee camp in Kenya.  It was, in a word, heartbreaking.  On the faces of the refugees I saw a desperation and hopelessness unmatched in any of my prior journalistic travels.  It was here that I watched a young child die right before my eyes.  Reflecting back, I’m not certain which fate seems worse, dying there or existing in a sort of hell on Earth in a home made of sticks and scrap plastic with little hope to progress to a more hospitable environment.

In China, we saw a nation choking on its own success.  It seemed as if the Chinese were in the middle of reinventing themselves and were not too concerned about the environmental wasteland left behind. Smoke billowed out of coal-fired power plants and a thick haze blanketed all of Beijing, blotting out the sun.  Construction seemed non-stop in all of the cities we visited as people migrate from the country to the cities.

During the recent “Arab Spring” revolutions, I saw thousands upon thousands of people so desperate for a better life that they literally put themselves in the line of fire to effect a change in their situation.  Angry youth, stagnated by their inability to get jobs, their lack of education and the lack of opportunity for a good future, took to the streets en masse.

Protesters demonstrate in Manama, Bahrain, one of the places affected by the “Arab Spring” unrest last year.  (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

In Afghanistan, in addition to speaking with Taliban prisoners in Pul-e-Charkhi prison, we met a little girl named Obaida who was sold off to be married by the time she was 9 years old.  She escaped her fate, but so many have not.  Women in many of the places we traveled to were treated more like property than partners.

These various reporting trips have culminated in a series of articles, videos, still images and graphics that, while not comprehensive in scope, hopefully pique your interest and compel you to dive deeper into the subject matter.  There are many viewpoints surrounding these issues and this series will certainly introduce you to some of them.

Though no one can guarantee what the future holds, I have to believe we are on some sort of collision course where water and food will be fought for like oil.  Understanding what Earth’s capacity is to sustain us on the planet is something to seriously consider and act upon.

As I write this, I am privileged to be on vacation, enjoying a rented house on a lake with my family.  There are boats to relax on, bountiful food to eat – an American-style excess that I need to feel more guilty about as I reflect on the places I traveled to for this story.  Earlier in the week, when discussing the project with my cousin’s husband, he said he preferred not to witness a child dying as we did in Dadaab’s refugee camp.  If I could have one wish right now, it would be that I could take my whole family with me to these places. So that they could see, so that they could know. We all need to witness these hardships – malnutrition, pollution, extinction, corruption, oppression, destitution – that occur around the world. Our collective knowledge of these things and resulting willingness to act can help us make changes that might alleviate burdens on our future generations.

Thank you for investing your time in exploring this important topic.

1 Comment

  1. July 26, 2012, 7:52 am

    Water on: rinse yourself.

    Water off: lather and scrub.

    Water on: rinse yourself.

    Also, people can look into “grey water” filtration systems that capture water from the sink, shower and washing machine and make it available for irrigation of lawns, gardens and etc.

    Alternately, you can simply put a couple of buckets on the shower floor to catch excess spray and carry the water out to your garden.

    By: H2O

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