The world still remembers the image of the Afghan girl on the June 1985 cover of the National Geographic magazine as one of the most iconic photographs of our times. Her piercing green eyes and the red scarf clicked somewhere in a remote refugee camp in Pakistan became symptomatic of the grit and pride of the Afghanis, living even in the most adverse conditions under Soviet rule. The world also saw the image of the dying girl and the vulture waiting to feed on her in Sudan which then led to the ethical debate on photojournalism. Some many such images but the fact remains that there is more to these images than meets the eye.
The stark realities of the developing world hasn’t changed much now wherein the development practitioners, rescue and aid workers, whether in conflict zone or least developed countries often come across such harsh realities almost every day. The outside world just gets to see these when one of these photos become viral and pinch their conscience. However, they still miss the stories beyond the visual imagery captured in these frames.
Just before the World Humanitarian Day on August 19 this year, we saw the photograph of a stunned 5-year old boy in Aleppo. Omran Daqneesh with his haunting eyes and face covered with blood and mud was pulled out from under the rubble of his home. His legs were hanging as if he was tired of the weight of his own body; let aside the burden and trauma of the catastrophe around him.
In this still taken from video provided by Aleppo Media Centre, a child sits in an ambulance apparently after being pulled out of a building hit by an airstrike. Photograph: Aleppo Media Centre
The image went viral on social media and again made us question the relevance of development on one side and the meaningless war on the other side.
In development sector, the aid workers who travel to difficult terrains in a bid to initiate the development activities and offer assistance often grapple these harsh realities and yet continue pushing the development agenda. This is not an easy job especially in countries which are destabilised politically or are just beginning to stand up on their feet.
The photograph of Omar along with the recent updates of strife, signals to the international community to take up the cause of development and peace more vehemently. The generations of the children in such war torn countries are in urgent need of help. But the International aid and development community working in such areas are suffering equally- if not more. The increasing lack of resources, problems like closed roads and routes, lack of support from local population coupled with working in rough inhumane conditions, is something which often goes unnoticed by international actors. And this is not the story of Syria or Sudan, but the developing world on the whole with the frontline aid worker in the ‘field’ facing these situations every day, be it famines or bombings. It is not a one or two year’s affair for them. They witness these for years at a stretch. They move from one country to another taking up challenging assignments. If we keep aside the romanticization of living such lives every day then it’s true that these problems are the harsh reality of a development aid worker.
The passion and zest to serve humanity which drives the development community is commendable, it is only when we see such iconic photographs from a famine or a war stricken country that’s when we want to know more. But more than often we miss the stories beyond these heart-wrenching frames. It is time to bring to attention the plight of the humanitarian aid workers who strive endlessly to bring about changes and face endless challenges and pay homage to them.