Photography: 98for98 The century in photographs: today 1984

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The Hulton Getty Picture Collection series continues with the graphic evidence that drew attention to the extent of the famine in Ethiopia.

In November, a BBC television report by Michael Buerk showed the outcome of a decade of civil war and drought - skeletal figures so starved they could barely move, fly-covered corpses wrapped in sacking, and aid workers forced to make decisions about whom they should try to save. These shocking pictures quickly prompted promises of support from all the major powers, yet even so, it is thought that at least a million Ethiopians died this year.

Western leaders accused President Mengistu Haile Mariam of paying more attention to the rebel war than to the needs of his beleaguered people. In May he ordered 30,000 famine victims in the refugee camp at Ibnet to make the impossible journey back to their homes.

Traditional aid charities were being frustrated by bureaucracy and mistrust. When RAF aircraft were ready to transfer wheat, this was halted by squabbles over which airport to land on.

It took the lead singer of a band, Bob Geldof, to be galvanised into action after seeing reports from Ethiopia, and to organise a charity concert. Cutting through the problems encountered by other aid charities, the concert gathered together an impressive collection of rock stars to perform free in aid of the starving Ethiopian refugees. The Band Aid single "Do They Know it's Christmas?" raised pounds 8m. (The following year's Live Aid concert, running for 16 hours on TV, was watched by 1.5 billion people in 160 countries, and raised another pounds 40m.)

The only person seemingly immune to the appeal was Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who refused to drop a possible VAT bill of pounds 500,000.

The Prime Minister would not have had a chance to make such statements if she had stayed in her Grand Hotel bathroom for two minutes longer. In October, an IRA bomb went off in the Brighton hotel where most of the British Cabinet were staying for the Conservative Party conference. At least three people were killed, but Margaret Thatcher and her Cabinet survived. "Today we were unlucky," said the IRA, adding, "but remember, we have only to be lucky once."

Jennifer Rodger

Photo 98 is a series of national events and exhibitions. For information, call 01484 559 888 or e-mail www.photo98.com.

Current exhibition: 'Worth a Thousand Words: Photography and Railways', 120 images selected from an archive of nearly 1.5 million photographs, is being shown at the National Railway Museum.

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