Desert, Fire, Flood
by Zied Ben Romdhane
Zied Ben Romdhane is a documentary photographer and photojournalist from Tunisia. His work has been exhibited internationally and featured in The New York Times and The Washington Post. He joined Magnum Photos in 2019 and became an associate member in 2023. Zied has also served as director of photography for Fallega, a documentary film about the Arab Spring in Tunisia. He published his first book, West of Life, in 2018.
Amid a series of intensifying natural disasters in Tunisia and British Columbia, photographer Zied Ben Romdhane captures the overwhelming power of the elements to shape and disrupt human life.
Grain by grain, sand dunes are shifting across the landscapes of southern Tunisia, filling and burying the roads, crops, dams, and towns that lie in their path, including the villages of Nouail, El Faouar, Es Sabria, and Rjim Maatoug. Pushed by the wind, the sand is accumulating from surrounding dryland ecosystems that are degrading and desertifying due to drought, increasing temperatures, and mistreatment through intensive agriculture.
In Tunisia’s north, high summertime winds are combining with intensifying summer heat—the latest record is 50.3°C—to bring a sharp increase in seasonal wildfire. The regions of Fernanah, Ain-Drahim, Kasserine, and Bizerte have been devastated by these blazes: in July 2021, at least 3,100 hectares of forest burned, doubling the previous year’s figure. Villagers in the area have lost their farming fields, olive trees, bees, cattle, and their homes.
In British Columbia, Canada, intensifying meteorological extremes have brought devastating flooding to the southern part of the province. Storms hit the North Pacific Coast every autumn, but in November 2021 an atmospheric river brought record-breaking rainfall to Sumas Prairie, an area ravaged by a wildfire earlier in the year that diminished the soil’s ability to absorb water. The resulting flooding decimated livestock and wildlife, destroyed roads, bridges, and houses, hindering access to Vancouver’s biggest port, and leaving thousands of people in evacuation shelters.
If we have ever found ourselves imagining a boundary between human civilization and the natural world beyond it, Zied Ben Romdhane’s series, shot over four years in the two countries he calls home, demonstrates how wrong we are. There is no edge dividing the human and the natural. Our lives and the elements are, inextricably, enmeshed.