We shouldn’t be deriding Geldof, we should be saluting him

Concern in Sierra Leone have buried thousands of bodies in the last few weeks from the ebola virus. Even if you hate the song — buy it, urges Dominic McSorley

Band Aid is about more than money; it is about awakening activism in the young and highlighting the shortfall in international funding for humanitarian emergencies.

Almost immediately after the airing of the new version of Do They Know It’s Christmas? the cynicism began.

Critics said Bob Geldof was simply another ageing rocker naively trying to save the world. Twitter was flooded with people denouncing Band Aid 30 as patronising, outdated and overly simplistic.

Others pounced on the ‘opportunity’, claiming the song was insulting to swathes of Africans. In the age of political correctness, the media focused on his trademark colourful language, which is distracting from the actual point — you don’t have to like how he gets his message across but you do have to listen to what he is actually saying.

And yet, within five minutes of the song being shown on The X Factor, €1.2m in pre-sales was registered on iTunes.

It is becoming the fastest-selling single of the year and is likely to be top of the charts — or thereabouts — at Christmas.

The song is raising funds all over the world and has already hit No 1 on the iTunes singles chart in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Canada.

I’m not going to sit on the fence here; I am firmly in favour of Band Aid 30. Three decades ago, Geldof galvanised an entire generation, engaging them on international issues of hunger and poverty. Today he is continuing the battle, but in a digital age.

The release of the song, however, is not just about raising money, it is about raising awareness of global issues to a new generation of what Bob termed the “X Factor nation” — many of whom weren’t alive when the original single was recorded 30 years ago — encouraging them to becoming interested and engaged.

It’s a step in the right direction for a generation which, despite blanket coverage of world affairs and unprecedented access information (consider the Facebook-enabled Arab Spring), are less engaged than any previous generation in global issues: Band Aid 30 offers a simple — but I would argue not simplistic — way to get involved.

Lest we forget, the original Band Aid received similar criticisms and yet had an enormous impact in Ethiopia 30 years ago.

In 1984, the money raised by Bob and his musical friends supported massive and timely relief efforts. According to Jack Finucane, who headed Concern’s emergency operations in Ethiopia at the time, the massive injection of Band Aid money played a key role enabling agencies to scale up their emergency response; allowing them to purchase vehicles, to transport supplies and materials to construct and stock feeding centres and brought skilled personnel into the country. The single saved lives.

Now 30 years on, agencies on the ground in West Africa are struggling to cope with the scale and speed of the ebola crisis which has already claimed more than 5,000 lives.

Concern has teams on the ground in both Sierra Leone and Liberia, the two countries most affected by the virus.

With up to 70% of ebola transmissions occurring from improper burials and contact with dead bodies, we have now taken over the management of two cemeteries in Sierra Leone and have buried thousands of people in the last few weeks.

Our teams ensure that victims are now being given safe and dignified burials within 24 hours. But much more needs to be done: more vehicles, more supplies and more skilled health and logistics personnel.

Money to support and sustain these efforts over the coming months is desperately needed. But there is a bigger point to be made: there is an enormous gap in humanitarian funding globally.

There are now more refugees, more internally displaced people and more ongoing conflicts than ever before. Countries like South Sudan, Central African Republic and Syria are in dire need of international assistance, yet efforts are all significantly underfunded. And while the internet and mobile technologies offer more information about our planet, we have to resort to a charity song to generate essential funding. Madness.

Even if you hate the song — buy it. Like it or not, Band Aid 30 is set to be around the top of the charts for a while, and likely to be the song of the festive season.

We shouldn’t be deriding Geldof, we should be saluting him. He continues to bang the drum for global issues and is getting the young X Factor generation engaged with humanitarianism.

The money being raised by Band Aid 30 will go a long way in providing much needed supplies, staff and resources on the ground in West Africa, as it did in Ethiopia in 1984.

I wholeheartedly salute Bob and applaud him for bothering to get involved.

Dominic MacSorley is the chief executive of Concern Worldwide


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