Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Last desert nomads defy a raging sandstorm

Image: Michele Palazzi, Gone with the Dust #02, 2012)

The future of these children is as unclear as the stormy landscape they're playing in. Captured in the Gobi desert in Ömnögovi province in the south of Mongolia, the children are from one of the last families still to follow an ancient nomadic lifestyle.

Titled Gone with the Dust #02, this photograph has won Michele Palazzi this year's Environmental Photographer of the Year Award. He received his £5000 prize yesterday at a ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

Palazzi took the winning photograph during a sandstorm on his second day with the family last year: they agreed to let him live with them for awhile if he helped them look after their herd of camels. When the storm blew up, Palazzi says, the adults ran out of the tent to gather the camels, but the children took the chance to play in the wind.

The photographer travelled to Mongolia to document the nomadic culture that is disappearing in the face of the country's rapid modernisation. In particular, the activities of foreign mining companies are threatening the nomads' way of life, for example by using up water they need to survive. The biggest business is coal mining, and dust from these mines covers pasture, making it hard to graze camels and horses. Making matters worse, a huge copper and gold mine is soon to open too. Many nomads have little choice but to move elsewhere or go to work in the mines themselves.

An exhibition with a collection of the environmental, natural and social-themed photographs from the competition will be on display at the Royal Geographical Society until 3 May. It then moves to Grizedale Forest Visitor Centre in Cumbria, UK, from 25 May to 1 September, before going on show at the premises of the award's sponsors, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management in London.

Sekar, Sandhya. 2013. “Last desert nomads defy a raging sandstorm”. New Scientist. Posted: April 10, 2013. Available online:

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