Giving is glamourous: media and aid

It is now almost 27 years since Bob Geldof and Midge Ure organized the first ever Live Aid following the success of the charity single ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ which raised an incredible 8 million British pounds. Some three decades later the use of media such as television and music has become a deeply ingrained and presumably necessary practice. Children in Need would be nowhere without the platform supplied by the BBC. UN has also caught on to the trend of entertainment, and the Goodwill Ambassador scheme can proudly list as its members Celine Dion, Ronan Keating, Susan Sarandon, Naomi Watts, David Beckham, Jackie Chan, and of course, Nelson Mandela. But isn’t there something wrong when we require celebrities and entertainment to provide us with an incentive to help people in need? And doesn’t Angelina Jolie rushing down to Africa in her private jet to save children seemingly better nourished than herself raise some question marks?

The humanitarian aid in Haiti showed that people generally do want to help. But poor organisation hampered the work, and with a commercial system which had broken down and an infrastructure in shambles already before the earthquake, the problems of giving relief as well as attempting reconstruction proved tantamount in spite of the massive sums of money raised for the cause and the two millions who came to help. The British diplomat and former Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Sir John Holmes spoke of this problem as he compared the result of the Haiti earthquake with the much more vigorous one in Chile which nevertheless brought none of the same severe consequences. Crucially, he talks about the creation and existence of so called “chronic acute emergencies”. The truth is that, in these times of instability and climate change, many places around the world are ticking bombs. However, in spite of the severity of the situation help won’t be received until after disaster ensues. We seem much more inclined to pump millions of pounds into disasters than investing in development aid aimed at preventing them from happening. It is a fact that it is substantially easier to raise money for humanitarian aid than for development aid and yet it is consistency and knowledge that makes for a stable environment and society.The problem is inherent in all news reporting where the selection process largely is based on the existence and quality of images possible to broadcast and the feelings they are expected to create. People in general are actually very generous in response to the pleas we receive from the TV screen, but it is often difficult to discern even within oneself the difference between guilt and a genuine desire to help.

Maybe it’s overexposure, maybe it’s human nature, or maybe it’s just ignorance. It does however remain a fact that in the face of the enormous inequalities and challenges facing the modern world the current approach to aid is insufficient, and sometimes even downright offensive. It was conveniently over-looked that Live Aid’s target, the famine in Ethiopia, largely was caused by government policies. This doesn’t change the fact that many fundraising charities are composed of hard-working and admirable people, and that they genuinely do make a difference. Therefore, rather than simply denouncing all commercial ways of raising money and awareness, maybe it is time we take a good long look at ourselves.


PHOTO/Gage Skidmore


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