Ebola crisis: Beyond the money, this forces our leaders to take action

The more singles Band Aid 30 sells, the more seriously our political masters will fight Ebola. So buy the record

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The fact that a Band Aid single is needed again – three decades on from the release of the original fundraiser to fight famine in Ethiopia – is a testament both to success and to failure.

A recognition of that was, ironically, implicit from the outset in the very name Band Aid – though back in 1984 many members of the British public had to have explained to them that a Band-Aid was American for what we Brits called a sticking plaster.

It was not much of a response to the gaping wound of an African famine which killed a million people. Bob Geldof acknowledged that. But it was something.

In the event it was more than just something. It set a template for a new kind of campaigning.  It raised money. But the scale of the public’s response also created a political mandate for change – and on a scale which politicians could not ignore.

It was a model which has become embedded in British charitable giving. Year after year charities like Comic Relief now provided the British people with an outlet for their profound impulse to help those in need. Every year more money is raised. But so is more awareness.

This – combined with activist movements such as Jubilee 2000 and Make Poverty History, and celebrity events such as Live Aid and Live 8 – created a constituency of generosity which forced a new cross-party consensus in British politics. The UK is now one of the few nations to have met the UN target of giving 7 pence out of every £100 we earn to the world’s poor.

That is not all. Live 8 pressured the G8 at Gleneagles to make big strides in fighting global poverty. Aid was increased, debt forgiven and the quality of African governance improved. More than 40 million extra children are in school. Six million people with HIV/Aids are on life-saving drugs. Malaria has been halved in eight countries. And much more.

But not all Gleneagles’ promises have been kept. The health services in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone were supposed to have been rebuilt. It did not happen. The countries remain the poorest in the world, with health budgets at a paltry $20 (£12.70) per person per year. That is why Ebola has taken such a deadly grip there, unlike Nigeria and Uganda where health systems are more robust.  Ebola, in the end, is a disease of poverty.

Failure to keep promises on aid leads to mistrust. That feeds the criticism of the sneering cynics who adopt morally and intellectually superior tones to suggest that aid is a waste of money. They also peddle out-dated clichés about corrupt African dictators who have been replaced, since the Cold War ended 30 years ago, with a renaissance in democracy and economic growth. Such arguments are sad attempts by naysayers to conjure an intellectually respectable defence for their own inaction or meanness.

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All the magisterial studies on aid show that it works – it saves lives, reduces poverty, increases foreign investment and promotes economic growth. You can always find cases where it doesn’t. And it is good to do that, because it helps us learn where aid is effective and where it isn’t.  Knowing the difference, and applying, it was key to the success of the Gleneagles package – when the promises were kept.

The importance of Band Aid lies its twofold focus. It raises money to be spent where there is direct need. Yet Geldof and his colleagues also know that even the most successful record will raise only a tiny fraction of what is needed to control Ebola. The bulk of that cash can only come from the world’s governments. Band Aid can help keep the media spotlight on that – and on those pledges politicians have failed to keep.

The more records Band Aid sells, the more pressure is piled on those political leaders.  Live 8 showed that the louder the crowd roars, the more the politicians tremble. The more singles Band Aid 30 sells, the more seriously our political masters will fight Ebola.

So buy the record. And if you have already downloaded it, buy it again in the CD version with Tracey Emin’s artwork. Go on. Make a difference.

Paul Vallely was co-author of the report of the Commission for Africa