Band Aid

November 30th, 2004  

Topic: Band Aid

A new recording of Irish rock star Bob Geldof's 1984 Band Aid hit to help starving people in Africa finds the continent even more widely gripped by famine and shortages, aid workers say.

War, drought and pestilence have created pockets of hunger stretching from southern Africa to Uganda on the east, to once-thriving Ivory Coast on the west, and north to Mali and Mauritania.

At the same time, aid workers say more people could need food aid in Ethiopia -- where famine two decades ago sparked the original recording and the spin-off Live Aid concert and appeal -- than ever before.

"The situation is shaping up for Ethiopia to be a bad year," Care International food security specialist Dan Maxwell told Reuters. "It could almost be the worst year in history."

In addition to the five million Ethiopians who need food aid even in a good crop year, erratic rains will leave another 3.8-7.5 million Africans needing international handouts. Decades of shortages, a civil war and economic decline have left the population very vulnerable.

Children have been pulled out of schools, animals and assets sold and workers have moved across the region to seek work. The Africa-wide AIDS pandemic leaves sufferers particularly at risk from the effects of malnutrition.

What has served to focus attention on Africa's starving millions this year is the war between African rebels and the Sudanese government that has left hundreds of thousands people reliant on food aid in the Darfur region.

Geldof's Band Aid campaign united pop stars for a remake of the 1984 hit "Do They Know It's Christmas?", with the proceeds going to various projects across Africa but media attention firmly linking it to food for Darfur.

"At no stage have we said that we're focusing on Sudan and Darfur," Band Aid publicist Bernard Doherty, a veteran of the 1984 concert, told Reuters. "That has been the media."

The single -- and a DVD of the original Live Aid concert -- are aimed as much at raising awareness and boosting a campaign to cancel African debt as at raising cash for food, he said.


Fighting in northern Uganda, where government forces battle the insurgent Lord's Resistance Army, has left hundreds of thousands people short of food, Care's Maxwell said, while rising tensions between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda also threaten renewed war and shortages.

"No one knows for certain the extent of food shortages in Congo at the moment," said Maxwell, citing poor roads and communications. "But certainly if there is a revival of conflict there will be widespread problems."

International famine monitor FEWS NET warns that renewed violence in West African cocoa producer Ivory Coast, cut in half since a civil war in 2002, could make feeding the country's 500,000 displaced persons extremely difficult.

Aid agencies had feared swarms of locusts in West Africa might have decimated crops in Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad -- which is also struggling to feed refugees from Darfur.

In Southern Africa, aid agencies say they are waiting to see if enough rain will fall for farmers to be able to plant the coming year's crops. In any case, the World Food Programme says 2.8 million people will need food aid in early 2005 in Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland and Zambia.

"If we do get a slight drop in crop production we're going to get a lot of people who go over the knife edge into a very food-insecure situation," said South African Development Community food security adviser Greg Sawden.