Voices from the Roof of the World series wins John B. Oakes Award

The second season of the documentary series, The Voices from the Roof of the World (VRW), has won the prestigious John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Reporting on the Environment at Columbia Journalism School. The series, sponsored by the Aga Khan University (AKU) and Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH), explores the climate crisis in high-mountain Asia and the billions of people that depend on the rivers that flow from these mountains.

The Oakes jury said that the international documentary series “provides an exceptionally vivid and intimate look at climate change’s impact on people and wildlife living in the Himalayas among the world’s highest mountains.”

Home to 240 million people and countless rare and endangered species, these mountains are also the largest depository of ice outside the polar caps, providing water to about a quarter of the world’s population. “The people of the Himalayas, Hindu Kush, Karakoram, and Pamir mountains are already living a climate emergency. Through VRW we want to give these vulnerable communities a voice so that we may all better understand the perils of climate change and take action to help those most affected cope with this global crisis,” said Onno Rühl, General Manager, AKAH.

The series captures the spirit and resilience of the people who call this region their home, sharing their daily lives, traditions, and struggles. The documentary series has garnered widespread acclaim for its captivating storytelling, breathtaking visuals and ability to foster cross-cultural understanding.

AKU President Dr Sulaiman Shahabuddin said, “These awards are testament to the need for impactful storytelling around environmental sustainability and climate change. Environmental stewardship is a priority for the AKDN and AKU for which a key part is increasing the understanding of the horrific impact of climate change, especially on vulnerable communities, and the responsibility that all of us have in any way, small or large, to protect our environment.”

With over three decades of expertise in creating Emmy and Dupont award-winning documentaries and reports, executive producer Andrew Tkach wanted to help local voices reach global audiences. “It’s wonderful to see filmmakers from Central and South Asia making films about climate change in their own backyard, being recognised by one of the world’s preeminent schools of journalism. For me it’s been a gratifying lifelong journey that also started at Columbia. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned since then with our filmmakers, but sad to see the climate catastrophe they’ve been documenting,” said Tkach.

The 10-part series was produced by filmmakers from Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Nepal: Andrew Tkach, Abdullah Khan, Tolik Godomamadov, Janyl Jusupjan, Asmita Shrish, Shanta Nepali, Aibek Balymbetov, Iskender Aliev, Karim Shallwanee, and Tazeen Bari. All 10 episodes aired on Express TV in Pakistan and are available on YouTube.

The John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Reporting on the Environment at Columbia Journalism School is given annually for news reporting that makes an exceptional contribution to the public’s understanding of environmental issues. It recognises journalists whose work meets the highest standards of journalistic excellence. The selection of The Voices from the Roof of the World reaffirms the series’ continued commitment to delivering compelling narratives and shedding light on overlooked communities.

Voices from the Roof of the World is a joint initiative of AKU, AKAH, the Aga Khan Foundation and the University of Central Asia, with the support of Ross Beaty, the Sitka Foundation and the Jenabai Hussainali Shariff Family. VRW trains, mentors, and supports young Asian filmmakers to produce groundbreaking environmental films about the consequences of climate change for the people and wildlife that are the least responsible for global warming but already shouldering its catastrophic impacts. The films also show how by combining local knowledge and innovation, these communities are finding ways to adapt and fight to save diverse ecosystems and precious water sources.

BY Shahla Bajwa