Inundated with dozens of famine relief proposals, including plans for sub-Saharan solar barbecues and a trans-African ocean water pipeline and desalination plant, organizers of last July's Live Aid concerts will meet today in London to decide how to spend the $58 million they have raised so far.
Most of the contributions raised by the phalanx of rock celebrities who performed in Philadelphia and London seven weeks ago are still earning interest in British and American banks. The Band Aid Trust, headed by Boomtown Rats lead singer Bob Geldof and organized for tax purposes in Great Britain, so far has spent only about $7 million to organize a trucking company in Sudan. Band Aid's American counterpart, the Live Aid Foundation, has yet to spend any of the $14 million raised at the Philadelphia show.
"Our original goal was to make at least the initial distribution some time in September, and that's still our plan," said Zoe Miller, project manager for the Live Aid Foundation.
Funding proposals submitted to the Live Aid organizers have ranged from the purposeful to the bizarre. In addition to the solar barbecue and ocean water pipeline requests, one grant applicant sought money to convert algae into food for impoverished Ethiopians.
Live Aid and African relief officials said that proposals to be seriously considered at today's Band Aid trustees meeting include a seed acquisition and planting program submitted by the Save the Children Federation and a long-term economic development project sponsored by World Vision.
Geldof and the Band Aid Trust have been criticized in the British press for failing to move any food or medical supplies to Africa in the nearly two months since the concerts were held. "I don't think that for the amount of money we're talking about, we're moving that slowly," said Carol Egerer, a Live Aid spokeswoman.
"We are trying to keep as many people alive as possible and the best way of doing that is by looking at the situation and planning," Geldof told reporters in London last week.
After visiting Sudan, site of an April political coup, Band Aid organizers decided that the only way to be certain food and supplies reached those who needed them would be to organize an independent trucking company in Khartoum, Sudan's capital. The Band Aid Trust thus far has purchased 154 trucks, most of them in Kuwait. The trucks are due to arrive in Port Sudan shortly.
"We will move food within the Sudan initially," said Phillip Rusted, Band Aid's chief financial adviser and a partner in the international accounting firm of Horwath & Horwath. "If the situation (there) gets better, we will seriously consider moving the trucks to other areas of sub-Saharan Africa."
Rusted and other concert organizers say they have spent the money cautiously in an effort to avoid the kinds of tax and legal problems that beset the Concert for Bangladesh, which was held in 1971. Disputes over money from that concert are still dragging on in court, 14 years after the event. If either the Live Aid Foundation or the Band Aid Trust were to lose its special tax-exempt status, "You'd be talking about a major disaster," shudders accountant Stanley Lapen, a Live Aid adviser.
U.S.A. for Africa, producer of the hit record "We Are the World," has been similarly wary with the $50 million it raised through sales of records, videotapes and "We Are the World" merchandise. (U.S.A. for Africa has no connection with Live Aid or Band Aid.) So far, less than one-fifth of the foundation's earnings and contributions has been delivered to famine relief organizations. Another $24 million has been "allocated" by the foundation's board of directors, which includes singers Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers, but has not been dispersed.
U.S.A. for Africa official Harriet Sternberg says most of the foundation's money will go to established relief organizations that belong to InterAction, an umbrella relief group. "Most of the proposals are coming in through (established channels). We probably don't get the real weird ones."
Interest earned on the millions now banked by U.S.A. for Africa will be used to cover the foundation's overhead expenses, according to Sternberg, although a small percentage of the actual proceeds may also be needed to meet costs. Live Aid and Band Aid officials have said repeatedly that all legal, accounting and administrative services required to mount their relief campaign will be donated free of charge. An accountant for Live Aid said that credit-card companies may have made some profit from phoned-in contributions during the Philadelphia and London concerts but that "a special arrangement" was made with the companies to control their take.