Monday, November 22, 2004

Not Even a Band-Aid

Following the week that Band Aid released Band Aid 20, an all-star recording to aid the starving Sudanese in Darfur, the documentary-maker Daniel Wolf argues that the first Band Aid fundraiser of 1985 only made matters worse for the victims of famine ["The Myth of Band Aid, "Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Queensland), November 21].

By the release, twenty years ago, of another all-star recording, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and the associated Live Aid concerts, Bob Geldof raised $150 million for famine relief in Ethiopia. At the time, many fans of rock music believed that they had accomplished great good, saved Ethiopia, and "fed the world." They did not.

Ghastly images of starving Ethiopians in 1984 shocked the world. What was not understood at the time was the famine was largely created by the government of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam. After a severe drought in the region, Mengistu withheld food supplies to the area and destroyed crops in order to suppress a rebellion. In October, 1984, Mengistu launched a major offensive into the famine-stricken areas in the north. Troops set up road blocks to prevent the aid shipments of food.

Meanwhile, Bob Geldof was telling the international media that agencies had to trust representatives of the Mengistu government. Yet with a billion dollars of aid flowing into Ethiopia in 1985, Mengistu was able to convert the incoming Western dollars into local currency at a highly favorable rate. By tripling Ethiopia's foreign reserves, Mengistu could spend the cash to buy weapons and feed his army. The United Nations in Addis Ababa, which was coordinating the aid program, denied there was any diversion of the funds.

At the peak of the famine operation, Mengistu decided to strip the rebel areas of their population by resettling more than half a million people from the north to the south. This resettlement resulted in the loss of 100,000 more lives. The money for the program came, directly and indirectly, from the aid program. People were abducted, some even from relief camps run by aid agencies, to be transferred to transit camps, where many starved to death.

They probably never knew it was Christmas.

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|| headland, 12:01 AM


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