“Douda is one of the hardest and hottest places I have ever visited,” says Faaris. “Drought and desertification caused by climate change are putting thousands of families at risk of starvation. During my visit the temperatures were so high it was impossible for the farmers to harvest their crops.”
The tiny state of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa has been hit hard by the impacts of climate change. Temperatures regularly climb above 40 degrees celsius during the summer months and the land is arid and inhospitable. An astonishing 90 percent of the country is desert.
“Most of the nations in the Horn of Africa suffer from climate change, but Djibouti is particularly bad,” says Faaris. “Douda is a small village about 15km from the capital. The farmers there grow vegetables such as okra which they sell in Djibouti City, but water is so scarce it is really difficult to get a decent crop.”
That’s where the EU’s flagship climate change programme GCCA+ stepped in. As part of a €3 million project, 40 greenhouses, each equipped with a drip irrigation system, were put up for local farmers to use. The farmers plant a mixture of vegetables to sell at market and forage crops to feed to their animals. It is estimated they can earn around 40,000 Djibouti Francs a month - or €200 - from each greenhouse.
Each 0.5 ha plot is fed by treated waste water from the Douda wastewater treatment plant. A cooperative has been set up to help the farmers learn be trained in irrigation scheme management techniques and to teach them how to grow drought-resistant crops.
“I love being a humanitarian photojournalist because it gives me an opportunity to work with the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in society,” says Faaris. “These people are the most affected by disasters and conflict, which are compounded by climate change. My role as a photojournalist is important because through my words and pictures I can give a voice to the voiceless.”
47 year old mother of four Asha Mohamed is typical of the farmers struggling to make a living in this barren landscape. “Asha was one of the women to benefit from the greenhouse project. When I met her she was planting vegetable seedlings in the greenhouse in incredibly heat. You cannot imagine how hard it is to work in those conditions and to grow enough to sell at the market. Yet woman like Asha have no alternative.”
Faaris likes to capture his subjects when they are working. “I came across this guy from Ethiopia called Abdi Abdirahman, working in the fields. He was tending the plants with one hand and in the other he held a solar powered radio turned to a local FM station. It was a bit weird hearing the music blasting out over the desert landscape.”
The ‘irrigated perimeter’ project, as it is known, has other advantages besides helping farmers increase their productivity. In this dry country, every drop of water in precious, so the team have installed drip irrigation pipes which use only a tiny amount of water.
“I came across a farmer called Farah Sugaal, who is one of those benefitting from the project,” says Faaris. “He’s 58 years old and I found him watering the first trees to be planted on his plot of land. He told me the irrigation system has made a big difference to his life and to his future.”
Faaris heard about the assignment in Djibouti through an organisation called Climate Tracker, which is working with GCCA+ to report on EU climate change adaptation and mitigation projects all over the world. Climate Tracker commissions young journalists, filmmakers and photographers to ‘put climate change on the front pages’.
“I was already in Djibouti for another assignment, so it was no problem for me to travel to Douda,” Faaris explains. “Although it is not far from the capital, it was a very hot journey. Climate change in this region is very real - it is having a huge impact on the people who live there, but at least the farmers in Douda now have a chance to improve their lives.”