Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
January 3, 2005

The Politics of Disaster (or Vice-Versa)

Here is the lead image that ran in Sunday’s NYTimes.  Overall, it could be seen to kick-off the political phase of the tsunami crisis.

Bandaacehrelief

In general terms, some of the questions it raises are: Who gets the relief? According to what priority? Who will end up with their hands on the distribution? To what extent will children be served or squeezed?

In the caption that accompanies the picture, you find out that this image was taken at the airport in Banda Aceh.  With news of the devastation, what is also surfacing are more widely distributed reports of the political situation there.  Banda Aceh has been trying to secede from Indonesia for about thirty years, and the nation’s military has been active in suppressing the movement.  Some reports even indicate that the military held up the entry of aid agencies into Aceh in the first days after the tidal wave. 

With this background, the fence certainly acquires greater symbolism. 

Another political reference can be found on the shirt of the man in the lower right.  The image is that of General Wiranto, who lead Indonesia’s murderous suppression of East Timor, and was also a candidate for the presidency last year.  Wiranto has remained largely free of any accountability.  Indonesia is known to be on more democratic footing since the demise of the dictatorship of General Suharto’s in the mid-nineties, but that’s highly relative.  Knowing so little about the situation, speculation is almost impossible.  If the military does hold leverage over aid distribution, however, perhaps the shirt represents one man’s extra effort not to come away empty handed.

(image: Abdullah Azam/AP in NYTimes)

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