Finbarr O'Reilly awarded 11th Carmignac Photojournalism Award on the Democratic Republic of Congo
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Finbarr O'Reilly awarded 11th Carmignac Photojournalism Award on the Democratic Republic of Congo
Neighbours and Red Cross safe and dignified burial workers in protective clothing gather outside the home of a family where an 11-month-old girl has died during Congo’s Ebola outbreak in the town of Rutshuru in Congo’s North Kivu Province, February 2020. © Finbarr O'Reilly for Fondation Carmignac.

PARIS.- The 11th Carmignac Photojournalism Award on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)—was awarded to Canadian-British photographer Finbarr O’Reilly.

O’Reilly’s reportage began in January, before the pandemic disrupted our lives and the way we operate. Due to the swiftly worsening global health situation and the gradual closing of borders, Finbarr O’Reilly and the Award team—alongside members of the jury and the pre-jury for the 11th edition—re-conceived their approach, adapting the Award and the reportage to better cover the crisis we are experiencing.

With this in mind, the Fondation Carmignac presents “Congo in Conversation” by Finbarr O’Reilly. It is a collaborative digital reportage produced in close cooperation with Congolese journalists and photographers (or DRC-based foreigners), respectful of security measures, ethics, and professional journalism practices.

Transmitted via a dedicated website and the Carmignac Award’s social network, "Congo in Conversation" will provide a pioneering output of articles, photo reportages and videos. It will document the human, social, and ecological challenges faced in the Congo today, in the context of an unprecedented health crisis.

The 11th Carmignac Photojournalism Award project will explore — with cautious optimism — the future of the Democratic Republic of Congo, documenting the harsh realities that have impeded progress in this long-exploited country. Within the context of the coronavirus pandemic, the project is turning its attention to how the Congolese are coping with the worst global health crisis in a century — in addition to managing the second-deadliest Ebola epidemic in history and the world’s deadliest measles outbreak.

American hospitals and Italian villages are currently on the front lines of the global pandemic. But epidemiologists and public health experts say the coronavirus will soon spread south, engulfing low-income nations already plagued by fraying health-care systems, fragile governments, and impoverished populations for whom social distancing is nearly impossible.

The Carmignac Award will provide an outlet for Congolese voices to contribute to the global discourse. Due to this pandemic, some of the world’s poorest nations are already confronting their greatest economic challenge in decades. According to the UN, nearly half of all workers throughout the African continent could lose their jobs. Citizens of poor nations living under weak or repressive governments are at particular risk of finding themselves at the bottom of the global scramble for scarce resources like medicines and ventilators. Meanwhile, another virus — measles — is already ravaging the country. Since January 2019, more than 6,500 children have died from the disease and 335,000 others have been infected, according to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) data. This is unfolding in a country still at war with itself, where dozens of armed groups regularly clash in Congo’s eastern provinces, and where a shadowy militia is responsible for massacring hundreds of civilians over the past few months alone.

There is a silver lining for Congo, however. The country is in a unique position to respond to yet another viral outbreak, having also dealt with the second-worst Ebola epidemic in history — spanning 3,453 cases and 2,273 deaths — over the past 18 months. This crisis means that Congolese officials adhere closely to advice from the WHO. As seen internationally, an early response is critical in containing the virus. On March 24, President Tshisekedi declared a countrywide state of emergency and shut down national borders to limit infections. Already accustomed to the measures that prevent the spread of viral infections, the country has maintained essential health practices: widespread temperature screening and handwashing at entry points, the installation of hand-washing stations in public places (markets, health centers, etc.), distributions of soap and cleaning products, and awareness campaigns using posters, leaflets, radio spots, and community networks.

Much of the country is on lockdown, but millions of Congolese rely on the informal economy to survive and live life on the margins with little to no social safety net. Street vendors, traders and motorcycle-taxi drivers rely on what they earn for the day and frequently lack property or savings. Many are without running water or electricity, although the government has promised free electricity and water during the pandemic. Still, the notion of social distancing is impossible to apply when many Congolese sleep in rooms or settlements crammed with people.

Through its network of contributors working in compliance with professional journalistic ethics and standards, the Carmignac Award’s Congo project will document human rights and environmental issues, providing in-depth reportages, snapshots of daily life and struggles in this huge country, as it faces an unprecedented health crisis.

Finbarr O’Reilly is an independent photographer and multimedia journalist, and the author of the nonfiction memoir, Shooting Ghosts, A U.S. Marine, a Combat Photographer, and Their Journey Back from War (Penguin Random House 2017). He is the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize exhibition photographer and a frequent contributor to The New York Times. His photography and multimedia work has earned numerous industry honors, including the 2019 World Press Photo Awards in the Portraits category, and World Press Photo of the Year in 2006. Finbarr lived for twelve years in West and Central Africa and has spent two decades covering conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Sudan, Afghanistan, Libya, and Gaza. In 2019, he spent months reporting from inside the second-largest Ebola outbreak in history.

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