By Marisa Wong. Marisa is a Master’s candidate in International Affairs and Media at the New School in New York, with a focus on human rights, participatory media, and documentary photography. View her photography and multimedia work on her website.

Why You Should Watch This:

For most, the words “climate change” and “forced migration” are likely to conjure images of tsunami evacuations and FEMA trailers.  These images have saturated the mass media and, as a result, remain fixed in our moral psyche.  What might be less apparent (and less represented in the media) are the quieter and more gradual conflicts that are becoming commonplace around places like East Africa’s Lake Turkana.  Here, where drought and desertification have slowly degraded the land and contributed to water scarcity, conflict has arisen in response to diminished resources.  These conflicts and their correlation with climate change are rapidly gaining momentum; 300 million Africans face water scarcity, calling for international attention.  But when the players are tribesmen in small villages across various borders, and when the conflicts are multifaceted and age-old, what is the most effective way to expose the problem?

As a documentary photographer, I’m a big believer in the positive impact of the still image.  There’s something about a moment frozen in time that always makes me sit up and pay attention.  But many would argue that video is a much more accessible and engaging medium for advocacy.  We often hear about “viral videos,” but rarely about pandemic photographs.  So when photography and video can be combined effectively – as is becoming increasingly common due to the recent popularity of DSLR filmmaking – it creates a space for truly impactful and thoughtful storytelling and advocacy.  “When the Water Ends,” the product of collaboration between a photographer, an online publication, and multimedia production giant, MediaStorm, exemplifies this fruitful overlap between video and still photography.  Together, they tell an important, complex, and untold story about the effects of climate change.

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Screenshot from “When the Water Ends” a film by Yale Environment 360, MediaStorm and photographer Evan Abramson.
  • Where the Water Ends”: Watch it here  
  • Date Created/Posted: October 2010
  • Length: 16 minutes
  • Who made it: Yale Environment 360, in collaboration with MediaStorm, and photographer/videographer Evan Abramson
  • Location: Kenya, Ethiopia
  • Human Rights Issues: Right to adequate standard of living, housing, food

Goal: “When the Water Ends” argues that, in order to understand the disparity between the perpetrators and the victims of climate change, “you’ve got to see it.” As a result, visibility was key to Yale Environment 360’s awareness-raising mission.  The video successfully blends stunning and intimate photographic imagery with multiple voices in order to make the issue more visible.  The call to action is unspoken, yet also unsubtle: realize that your daily actions have a direct effect on the quality of life of those around the world.

Primary Audience: The “perpetrators” of climate change – in other words, everyone.

Message: Susan Sontag said “A photograph can’t coerce.  It won’t do the moral work for us, but it can start us on the way.”  Not only does this video start us on our way with photographs, it weaves spoken testimonies from multiple sides of the story, to show that “climate knows no boundary”.  While the video focuses exclusively on conflict and climate change as the issues, it also touches on the unfortunate loss of indigenous environmental knowledge and questions the humanitarian response to drought.

Content/Style/Voices: MediaStorm is well-known for its strengths in multimedia storytelling.  As a result, the story is well-paced and engaging, seamlessly pairing video, voice, and still images to create a complete picture.  The video integrates testimonies of men and women from four different tribes affected by scarcity, the UN’s Head of Office for Humanitarian Affairs in Kenya, and an atmospheric scientist, creating a well-rounded and creditable account of the challenges.

To further illustrate the tangled and geographically complex conflicts, the video effectively employs mapping.  At minute 8:58, a gripping animation maps Lake Turkana’s rapid recession into Kenya over the past 30 years.  The effect is simple, yet it drives the point straight home.

Did you know? Photographer Evan Abramson spent $7,000 of his own money to shoot this project over 6 weeks, before it was picked up by Yale Environment 360. It was a 2011 Webby Nominee for Best Documentary.

Suggested Resources: Surprisingly, this particular video campaign didn’t offer direct links to resources.  Yale Environment 360 has a solid series of video reports on their website, including this video which was also done in partnership with MediaStorm and covered mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.

For more information on the relationship between climate and conflict, look no further than Refugees International’s campaignson climate displacement.

Finally, WITNESS worked directly with the Centre for Minority Rights Development (CEMIRIDE) in Kenya, helping the Endorois community win a case for indigenous rights in 2010.  Check out the videos which contributed to this landmark victory.

Join the Conversation: This particular video didn’t propose specific solutions or employ a direct request for action.  How would a specific call to action improve and focus Yale Environment 360’s advocacy message?

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3 thoughts on “Video Advocacy Example: Yale E360’s Video Makes a Powerful Statement on Water-Based Conflicts in East Africa

  1. In the about us section of the “Yale Environment 360” the following is stated: “…is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news.”

    Therefore the video was not meant to advocate for an action, but to inform on an issue. In this context and on the website it is published, the video achieves it’s advocacy messaging goal by informing the viewer on the issue.

    Should this video be screened in front of specific audiences, such as politicians or youth activists than the video should be re-edited to implore an action for this focused audience. The action is dependent on the group, example might be for youth to join a movement like http://imattermarch.org or for the politicians the name of the law they would need review or consider voting against.

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