1993 Photo Contest, General News, 1st prize

James Nachtwey

Magnum Photos for Libération

01 November, 1992

Bardera, Somalia. A mother carries her dead child, wrapped in a shroud according to Muslim custom, to a mass grave for famine victims, outside the town of Bardera, Somalia. The famine, which claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Somalis, was the result of regional drought and civil war. While a large portion of eastern Africa suffered from this drought in this period, Somalia was the only affected nation, which also faced ongoing war. In January 1991, opposing clans overthrew President Siad Barre, who had led the country for 21 years. Thereafter, the centralized Somali state crumbled and the country plunged into a state of lawlessness and social breakdown as clan warlords and their militias fought for power, armed largely with weapons supplied by the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. In addition to the thousands of civilians wounded and killed in the fighting, the militias also looted food reserves and incoming food aid. In September 1992, the United Nations estimated that half of the aid sent to Somalia was stolen. One third to half of Somalia’s total population was internally displaced by this combination of famine and war. Many flocked to the market town of Bardera. On 23 October 1992, The New York Times reported that 11,000 women and children in a refugee camp there were in desperate need of food. But Bardera, a town without any paved roads, was unprepared for the large numbers of refugees. Located at the junction of two heavily mined roads leading to the ports in Mogadishu and Kismayu, Bardera’s packed-dirt airfield could not function in the rain. Only half an hour by air from thousands of tons of food aid, in November Bardera’s death rate nevertheless continued to rise as battles between warring militias halted relief flights.

About the photographer

James Nachtwey

Photographs of the Vietnam War and the American Civil Rights movement inspired him to become a photographer. While teaching himself photography, he worked as truck driver and as ...

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