Photograph by John Stanmeyer
Photograph by John Stanmeyer
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When the drinking water disappears

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By Whitney Johnson, Director of Visual and Immersive Experiences

How do you show a crisis few in the world have heard about? Writer Paul Salopek and photographer John Stanmeyer tried to get their heads around one mind-numbing fact: Roughly 100 million people in India may gulp their last groundwater dry by year’s end.

Some 600 million people in India already live without clean water. Industrial waste, urban sewage, and agricultural runoff has poisoned entire river systems. The Ganges, venerated by Hindus, is one of the most polluted rivers on Earth. Above, a man submerges in the river to bathe away waste, amid marigold offerings, plastic trash, and fecal waste.

As if India didn’t have enough to worry about, the nation on Friday passed the 1 million mark of people infected with COVID-19, emerging as the third hardest-hit country in the world, behind only the United States and Brazil. Given the lack of clean water in which to wash hands and the limited (but brave) work of front-line volunteers, that number is expected to grow rapidly.

I encourage you to see the photos below and read our full story on the water crisis.

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The cost of pollution: The hands of Resham Singh, a 59-year-old carpenter in Punjab, are gnarled from arthritis. Doctors say it may have been caused by exposure to water tainted by fertilizers and pesticides. Heavy use of chemicals in the 1960s to late 1970s brought India out of famine and into its green revolution, but Singh’s village, Mari Mustafa, has high cancer rates.

Venerated (and polluted): India’s rivers inspire countless customs and traditions. Left, a couple poses in a boat on the shore of the Tista River, in West Bengal, as a local photographer shoots pre-wedding pictures. Right, abandoned Hindu offerings litter the Sahu River in West Bengal. Religious ceremonies are a major source of river pollution.

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Laid to rest: The family of Ramesh Pandey agreed to be photographed as they prepared to cremate him in Prayagraj on the bank of the Yamuna. His ashes will flow into the Ganges. Hindus believe that cremation at a holy site frees the soul from the cycle of life and death.

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Your Instagram of the day

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Getting stronger: Lebanon is in an economic crisis—and poverty among the over 1.5 million Syrian refugees in the country is increasing. Qutaiba Obeid, 15, dreams of one day getting to work out at a real gym, photographer Magnus Wennman says. Qutaiba wants to be bigger and stronger. And maybe that's what he imagines when he looks in the mirror, flexing his muscles: how his thin teenage body will soon develop into a man. In some ways Qutaiba is already a man; he's been forced to take on the responsibility of an adult. At age 11, he started working in a grocery store, cleaning and picking up goods, from 9 in the morning and until 11 in the evening. For that, he earned about $6 a month. "I was very tired then. I worked every day. The salary went to my parents," he says.

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This week's spotlight

Rewriting history: Dario Calmese’s Vanity Fair cover of Viola Davis (left) is apparently the first ever shot by a Black photographer in the magazine’s history, editor Radhika Jones writes. Calmese tells the New York Times the pose is a re-creation of “The Scourged Back,” an 1863 portrait (right) of an enslaved man whose back is ravaged by whipping scars. Jones sees the Vanity Fair cover pose as representing the strength it takes to tell your own story. Calmese sees it as re-writing the white gaze on Black bodies, “transmuting that into something of elegance and beauty and power."

In a few words

The big takeaway

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Critically endangered: They look amazing. That’s the problem. All six species of Cuban painted snails, found along the country’s narrow eastern coastline, face extinction, pushed along by illegal trading. Photographer Bruno D'Amicis shows a collection of the snails (above) in a university lab in Santiago de Cuba. Below left, a researcher takes measurements of the shells, and (below right) a woman in a town near Baracoa offers jewelry and thousands of painted snail shells for sale. Collecting the snails either for sale in Cuba or trading abroad is prohibited.

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The last glimpse

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Tallyman: Photographer James P. Blair took this image of a man tallying stacks of coffee beans in the Ivory Coast for a 1966 National Geographic article. The West African nation, ranked as the world’s third largest coffee producer in the 1960s, was featured after its recent independence from France. The scale of the image caught the attention of Sara Manco, our senior photo archivist. “I love,” Manco tells us, “how the lone figure is dwarfed by towers of coffee bags, showing just how much this country produces."

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse selected the photographs. Have an idea or a link for us? We’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . Thanks for reading, and have a good weekend!