Rarely has rock and roll shown such a conscience. Two years ago today, 50 of the biggest names in pop music - from Paul McCartney to The Pretenders, from Joan Baez to Ozzy Osborne - gathered to present an outdoor rock show that would rival the 1969 Woodstock festival in its significance. It was called Live Aid, and was actually two concerts held simultaneously: one in London, and the other in Philadelphia.
Both arenas were filled to overflowing, and the concerts were seen and heard via satellite by an estimated 1.5 billion people around the world. The unprecedented magnitude of Live Aid was enough to guarantee its place in history.
But it was the cause it embraced - the battle against the African famine - that has left a permanent impression.
Through donations made worldwide during and immediately after the two concerts, nearly $80 million was raised for famine relief efforts in Ethiopia, Chad, Mali, Sudan, and five other African nations. The man behind the rock that started the money rolling in was a skinny, scruffy-haired, relatively unknown Irish singer. Bob Geldof likes to keep a low profile, but he remains on the board of the Band Aid Trust, a fully legal British charity spawned by a record album whose proceeds went to famine relief.
To date, about $110 million has been raised by the Band Aid/Live Aid project, and all but $35 million has been spent. Though the curtains closed on the Live Aid concerts two years ago this week , ``every day, there's more money in the mail,'' says Penny Jenden, Band Aid's executive director.
Early on, says Ms. Jenden, most of the money was used for immediate relief: some $43 million was spent on the purchasing of food and medical supplies and the transportation of the goods from Europe to Africa.
The remaining money has been or is being pledged to long-term development projects. ``We all started as volunteers, and we had a very limited goal early on. We thought there were projects just sitting there, waiting for money ... and so we would find the good ones and fund them. But it hasn't worked out that way. We've had to become more of a development organization,'' Ms. Jenden explains.
In London, Band Aid's staff of five volunteers - working with a committee of 10 British experts with credentials in relief work, public health, agriculture, and development - have been sifting through more than 700 project proposals.
Only 150 of those have been accepted, ranging from building bridges and dams to drilling wells, replenishing stocks of cattle killed by drought, and helping to develop politically controversial resettlement areas in Ethiopia. The Marxist government of Ethiopia posed a serious dilemma with it's resettlement programs, which other agencies had sidestepped because people were being forcibly moved from the impoverished highlands to less crowded lands in the south - often at gunpoint on a few hours notice.
Band Aid eventually agreed to finance two major nongovernmental resettlement projects, both run by the Irish agency, Concern. Jenden resents the bad press the move generated in the United States, but stresses that the projects Band Aid is supporting in Ethiopia are not ``forced resettlement programs. Band Aid totally disapproves of forced resettlement,'' Jenden insists.
She says relations with the Ethiopians can be delicate, because Band Aid is financing projects in both Eritrea and Tigre, regions where rebels are in control.
``We generally avoid explicit discussions with the Ethiopian authorities,'' Jenden says. ``They know what we're doing, but they don't always know the extent. We've always maintained that we're a humanitarian organization - not a political one.'' But has the Band Aid effort been a success? Jenden says, ``We're really not in any position yet to come to a decision on how successful this has been. We're still two or three years away from [making any assessment.]''
But, she adds, ``We have been successful in inspiring people; not just in terms of encouraging the relief efforts in place in Africa, but in the West, by bringing out a spirit of motivation and concern. That's really appreciated by the Africans and most of the African governments.''
Band Aid's executive director says the trust will continue to fund long-term development projects in Africa ``as long as the money holds out; but we won't be an enduring institution ... not just another agency, another buraucracy.''