The picture has a healthy Caucasian hand at the bottom, held out as though extending a spirit of empathy and friendship. Sprawled across that hand is the hand of a Ugandan child: except that the boy is starving, and all one can see are mangled, hunger-ridden and malnourished digits where fingers should be, and a bony appendage that is an arm.
Shot in Karamoja district in Uganda in April 1980, the image that reflected the contrast of the two hands of the starving boy and the missionary remains etched in the memory of many of the world’s people. Karamoja historically holds the record for having the driest climate in Uganda and is prone to droughts. In 1980, the worst famine struck the region, claiming the lives of as many as 21% of the population, which included within it 60% of the infant population. It was one the worst famines in history.
Even as the world applauded his work, and he won the World Press Photo Award for this photograph, photographer Mike Wells admitted that he was absolutely ashamed to take the photo. It was not published, but was entered into a competition instead – and Wells was embarrassed about winning it after not having entered the competition himself, and, that the photograph was of so much pain and of people starving to death. Even today, Karamoja has a considerable amount of famine.
Mike Wells’ photograph is a grim reminder of everything that’s wrong with the world: inequity in distribution of resources and the disparities in the way the world functions.