Pakistan chief photographer Adrees Latif has won the prestigious ICP Infinity Award in Photojournalism for his outstanding coverage of last year’s Pakistan floods. Working under the most difficult of conditions he led the Reuters pictures team to tell the story from every possible angle. His images were published daily across international front pages, bringing attention to the enormity of the catastrophe from its early stages. Latif’s work has received numerous industry accolades including the Pulitzer prize for Breaking News Photography in 2008.
Adrees recounts how he took the award-winning image of marooned flood victims grasping on to an army helicopter as they tried to escape.
Heavy monsoon rains in late July 2010 caused widespread flooding across Pakistan, sweeping away entire villages and killing at least 1,600 people and displacing 10 million. Water submerged around one-fifth of the country and led to the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis in decades. A week into the crisis, flooding had submerged areas of southern Pujab province while leaving a trail of death, damaged infrastructure and an uncertain future in the north of the country. As the flood waters ravaged villages and towns along the Indus River basin, I too followed its trail of destruction. After spending days wading through flood waters to tell the story, I arrived in Multan on August 6 in the hope of getting a seat upon a helicopter taking part in relief efforts. My goal was to bring light to the vast amount of landmass the floods had covered, the same viewpoint that made U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon note the Pakistan floods were worst disaster he had ever seen.
On the morning of August 7, I was granted a seat upon an Army helicopter that was to deliver relief supplies to flooded villages in the Muzaffargarh district of Punjab. After loading the chopper with packets of cooked rice mixed with chickpeas, the crew and a handful of journalists departed in search of marooned villagers. We soon spotted families taking refuge on a cemetery, the only landmass in the area above water. As the helicopter came down to land, dozens of men and boys started to charge, forcing the pilots to hover over the crowd.
As the doors to the helicopter opened to distribute food supplies, I saw my chance for a different angle and took a step back before leaping past the crewmen and meters below onto the ground. I knew I had as much time to document the reality of the moment as it would take the crewmen to distribute the relief supplies they had brought. Tripping over mounds and gravestones, I managed to find enough distance from the helicopter to show dozens of hands reaching into the air to catch food rations being thrown down. Seconds later, I fought the dust and force from the propellers to return under the belly of the hovering craft to captured images of villagers hanging onto the skids in hopes being rescued.