7.0 and Counting: the Live Aid Legacy in the Haiti Earthquake Response

clooney haitiThe recent Haiti Earthquake quake, which occurred near midnight on the evening of January 12th, 2010, resulted in a rapid and focused charitable response. Less than ten full days after the tragedy, the “Hope For Haiti Now” telethon was broadcast featuring performances by Bruce Springsteen, Jennifer Hudson, Dave Matthews, John Legend, Justin Timberlake, Stevie Wonder, Taylor Swift, Coldplay, Rihanna, and over a dozen others, hosted by Anderson Cooper, George Clooney, and Wyclef Jean.

By January 27th, just five days after the concert, Hope for Haiti Now announced the organization had raised more than 66 million as sales from the concert add to donated revenue. Marketwatch reported that the album, “became the first-ever digital-only album to debut at no. 1 on the Billboard 200.” The magnitude of this private and cultural response is reminiscent of Live Aid, the multi-venue rock music concert held on July 13, 1985 to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia. Maureen Zebian’s report about Live Aid in The Epoch Times states,

The concert was inspired by Bob Geldof, an Irish rock artist, who, after traveling to Ethiopia and witnessing the horrific conditions there, called Britain’s and Ireland’s top recording artists to sing together “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” written by Geldof and Midge Ure. 77175473The 36 pop artist ensemble known as Band Aid included Duran Duran, Phil Collins, and U2. The song soon became Britain’s best selling recording, raising $10 million for needy Africans.

American artists soon followed suit with their own song, “We are the World” written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie. The U.S. ensemble known as “USA for Africa” included Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon and raised more than $44 million.

Believing he could raise even more money for the suffering Ethiopians and with the famine crisis spreading to neighboring Sudan, Geldof proposed Live Aid, the first worldwide concert aimed at raising funds and increasing awareness of the plight of many Africans. Over 75 of the top recording artists performed for free including the Who, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, the Beach Boys, Led Zepplin, and Paul McCartney. People from all over the world pledged money, and at one point the U.S. phone system broke down momentarily after a record 700,000 calls came in at the same time.

There have been concerns over the Live Aid producers’ oversight of funds raised for starving Ethiopians with some suggesting that funds were siphoned off by Dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam and his army. Even Bono of U2 said that corruption, not disease or famine, was the greatest threat to Africa.

84941348There is little doubt that the Ethiopian government did play a significant role in the impact of the natural crisis. There is a nice phrase on the wikipedia page about short rainfall in 1984 being only “the proximate cause.” The BCC “Flashback on a Famine” web-page reports, “Aid agencies said six million people were at risk. But Western governments were reluctant to get involved. Ethiopia had been a Marxist state since the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie in September 1974. The West feared it would bear the cost of drought aid while the military government of Mengistu Haile Mariam spent money buying weapons and cementing a Marxist-Leninist regime.”

The horror of the Ethiopian tragedy caught many Westerners off guard. Geldof was himself inspired by a six minute news report he happened to see one evening on the television. Michael Buerk’s report – in the video here – is widely recognized as one of the most important pieces of television reporting from the last century.

When Geldof closed the Band Aid Trust in 1992 after raising more than 144 million he stated, “It seemed so long ago that we asked for your help. Seven years…you can count them now in trees and dams and fields and cows and camels and trucks and schools and health clinics, medicines, tents, blankets, toys, ships, planes, tools, wheat, sorghum, beans, research grants, workshops… I once said that we be more powerful in memory than in reality. Now we are that memory.”

The British Broadcasting Corporation page on Live Aid notes that it took organizers Geldof and Ure “just 10 weeks” to arrange the event. Given that the Haiti telethon occurred less than 10 days after the disaster, it seems clear that the people of Haiti are now part of the Live Aid legacy. One month after the quake non-profit and government assistance are well entrenched in the reconstruction, and the Hope for Haiti fund continues to grow.