Something needs to change. In the past 50 years, the world's demand for natural resources has doubled. If we continue to use resources and generate waste at the current rate, by 2030 we will need the equivalent of two planets. Of course, we only have one.

In a world of limited resources, scarcity and waste have become fundamental social, political and environmental issues of our time. How can we ensure that there is enough land, food and water for future generations?

These are complicated questions with no easy answers, but this year's Syngenta Photography Award winners offer urgent glimpses into some of the most pressing examples of these issues across the globe. Over-development in the Middle East, worsening air quality in urban centers and water (mis)use around the world—these are just a small number of topics that these hard-hitting, unsettling yet unflinchingly executed projects bring to our attention.

Above, we offer a glimpse into each of these award-winning projects (as well as six of our favorite finalists) and below, some more context and information behind these complex investigative efforts.

And of course, congratulations to all of these richly deserving and compassionate individuals!


1st prize, Professional commission:

Mustafah Abdulaziz (USA)
Pulling of the well, Tharpakar, Pakistan, 2013
Locations: Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Somalia and Pakistan

"Water" is a photographic typology and exploration of a natural resource in crisis. A 2010 United Nations report has warned of a "looming warning crisis" and reports that nearly 3.4 billion people will face water scarcity by 2025. As more people live in cities and our populations grow, our dependence on dwindling clean water supplies will change how we live and ultimately who lives and dies. This photographic study on water, both on-going and with support from the United Nations, WaterAid, VSCO and others, will continue to track water issues across the globe and seek to examine how our interaction with the most vital resource for life on Earth. "We used to think that energy and water would be the critical issues," declares Mostafa Tolba, former head of the UN Environment Program. "Now we think water will be the critical issue."

Women of Tharpakar in the southern Sindh Province of Pakistan work together to pull water from a well. Even when one person is done, they all remain at the well to share in the task. One of the effects of the flooding was salinity in the ground, which affected the ability for the agricultural region to support itself. The water gathered is brackish and dangerous to the health of children, who often suffer diarrhea and other water-borne illnesses.


2nd prize, Professional commission:

Rasel Chowdhury (Bangladesh)
Urban structures growing up on the middle of the river
From the series "Desperate Urbanization" (2010-2014)
Hazari Bag, Dhaka, Bangladesh

While we are now celebrating 400 years of Dhaka City, the River Buriganga, that has played a vital role in its growth, is fighting to survive. Today it is being choked to death, extremely fragile and unable to run its natural course. We, the people of Dhaka, are killing it.

Dhaka's population is growing day by day. The Buriganga is the most popular way of commuting to other parts of the country. Various factories and industries are still being set up along the river. Chemicals discharged by tanneries, sewage and industrial waste are also dumped directly into the water. Nearly 700 brickfields on the riverside, dockyards and used engine oil from boats and steamers add to this pollution.

This 41 km long river that flows through Dhaka once blessed us with hopes and dreams of building a new city. But today, the city itself is causing the death of the Buriganga.


3rd prize, Professional commission:

Richard Allenby-Pratt (UK)
Abandoned Island Development
Location: Dubai, United Arab Emirates

My current project, "Consumption," explores aspects of the supply chain associated with the modern consumer; from the extraction of resources, to processing, manufacturing, energy production, construction, food production, logistics and retail, through to waste management and reuse.

In so doing I also find myself looking at the way the natural, ancient, landscape of the UAE is being utilised and consumed. I do most of my research on satellite imagery.

The exponential development of the Emirati landscape and rapid depletion of it's resources has been an illustration of the speed at which natural resources are consumed and environments damaged, when economic growth is unrestrained.


1st prize, Open competition:

Benedikt Partenheimer (Germany)
Shijiazhuang, AQI 360, 2014. Shijiazhuang, China
Location: Shanghai, China

What use is economic prosperity and wealth if people have to live in cities where they cannot breathe and where children cannot play outside? From December 2013 - April 2014, I have been working on the series "Particulate Matter" in China. The series calls attention to air pollution and shows Chinese cities disappearing in their own pollution. Scientific studies have shown that many cities in China (but also in other countries in the world) have become unsafe for human habitation.

Air pollution has become too concentrated and too dangerous.Resource scarcity is evident everywhere, oceans, rivers and lakes, forest—but also clean air itself has become scarce in many places around the world.


2nd prize, Open competition
:

Camille Michel (France)
Abandonment, 2014
Location: Uummannaq, Greenland

This picture was taken in Uummaannaq, a mysterious island lost north of Greenland. The island is home to an isolated Inuit people who are torn between modernity and tradition, ecological disaster and natural greatness, abandonment and resistance. The landscape is as beautiful as it is disturbing. This picture was taken in the town's waste sorting center, located on an ice field very close to locals' homes, where the waste burnt in open air is responsible for a significant "dioxin" pollution.


3rd prize, Open competition:

Stefano De Luigi (Italy)
Drought in Kenya, 2009
Location: Kenya

This series about Kenyan drought, that I have shot throughout Kenya, especially in the Turkana region, has affected me more than any other story I've done previously. The main reason is that suddenly I felt I was documenting a terrible memento for all human beings. This tragedy, where animals and people were struggling to survive this terrible drought, was a sort of nightmare vision. A future which could be waiting for all of us if we don't deeply change our habits, if we don't reconsider our way to share the resources of our planet with more sense of responsibility.

We could leave a terrible legacy to the next generations of humans who will live on our planet in fifty or a hundred years.

—LensCulture


Editors' Note: To find out more information about this award, be sure to visit Syngenta's website—which includes an excellent "online exhibition" of the winners and many other selected photographers.

An exhibition titled "Scarcity — Waste" will be shown at the Somerset House in London from March 11 until April 10, 2015.

Discover more new, inspiring photography every day from cultures around the world at lensculture.com, and on Facebook and Twitter as well as on Instagram.