Sir Bob Geldof: The suffering is the same but 2017's looming famines are man-made for political gain

More than 30 years after he emerged as a central figurehead in the global appeal to help famine victims in Ethiopia, singer and campaigner Sir Bob Geldof explains why the stakes of the looming 2017 famines are even higher...

Africa is yet again facing famine. The UN is calling the potential famines the worst since 1945. Millions of people from northern Nigeria across to Yemen are facing the prospect of starvation, drought, sickness and, ultimately, death.

I've seen it far too often in my life. That’s why I didn't want to look at the pictures in ITV’s reports. I just can't bear it. Death by hunger is agony. These little humans – babies, children – die in utmost horror and agony.

The scariest thing is the pace and frequency of these situations. There used to be longer stretches between them. Not any more. Yes, there are similarities to the 1980s. The poverty is as real now as it was then, as is the instability and desperation.

But apart from the suffering, it is different. If anything, the stakes are higher.

Petrol tankers burn out following a suicide attack by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Credit: AP

This is war and conflict married to an existential climactic moment. The proxy wars and insurgencies are not only exacerbating the effects of climate change but make it incredibly difficult if not impossible to get to the millions who need help.

We are dealing with gangsterism – the thugs and murderers of al-Shabaab, the Islamic fundamentalists in Somalia, and Boko Haram. These warring parties, and the powers that back or exploit them, use famine for political purposes.

Last week there were concerns that South Sudan would put up the cost of bringing each aid worker into the country to more than £8,000. This is almost impossible to pay – not only because it would clear out aid budgets but because the money could be used to buy guns and armaments.

The potential 2017 famines are almost entirely man-made whereas those of the 1980s were mostly caused by drought, and though Band Aid trucks were targeted and bombed and drivers were killed, we were able to talk to the warring parties to get aid through.

Bob Geldof organised and performed with the Boomtown Rats at Live Aid to raise money for famine victims in Ethiopia. Credit: PA

You have to ask: where are the international governments? They all promise much and many deliver - but clearly not enough, so what's the point if millions face death and thousands have already died?

Let’s be clear. Not all governments commit a dereliction of duty against the world’s poorest. The UK is the Rolls-Royce of aid and development. It’s always one of the first in to help followed by the Germans, the EU and the US.

The gains we made years ago against poverty were in large part thanks to the UK government and the British people. We’re one of the first to step into the breach. This makes others get off their arses and do something – America is never far behind.

But what about Russia, China, the Middle East? They claim to be mature states and honourable countries – but where are they? The UAE, the Saudis, the Qataris and the Iranians? Where are they?

There will be those who say, "Oh, there goes Geldof again - he is so naïve" because these things will play themselves out, they always do – they end once enough children have died and the pile of bodies become too high...

£1.7 billion in aid is needed this year to reach 12 million Yemenis. Credit: ITV News

I reject this out of hand. Why should children be used as the bargaining instrument? Why should they be used and be allowed to die at the hands of thuggery, married to an existential climactic moment?

I know it can be depressing. But we are making progress. We have come a long way since 1984, reducing poverty, tackling disease and saving and improving millions of lives. So don’t believe the shrill critics that claim aid is a waste of money. We will win this and we will defeat poverty, of that I’m sure.

Famine is threatening four different countries - with millions at risk. Credit: ITV News

So let’s be absolutely clear. When you see the photos and the pictures from the ITV reports of people, who like you and me, were one day going about their lives, making a living and the next are watching their children starve and burying their relatives, transplant that to a British street.

When you hear the NGOs saying ‘sorry to come again guys but we need donations’, remember that every quid you give and every petition sent to your MP and government to apply all political pressure are a vote that says: "Nope, not in my name, pal."

Sir Bob Geldof's views do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News.

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