Mark's Musings

A miscellany of thoughts and opinions from an unimportant small town politician and bit-part web developer

Feed the World


There are all sorts of reasons why today’s song is clearly from another era. Big hair, a fresh-faced Bono, a politically incorrect absence of female or black soloists and a Christmas number one which wasn’t released the week before Christmas. On the latter note, it also harks back to an era when Christmas number ones could actually be about helping other people rather than filling Simon Cowell’s wallet. Here’s the big daddy of all charity singles, Band Aid, with the original (and best) version of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’:

I could just leave it at that, because it’s a good song in its own right even without the charity aspect. But it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the background to the song, and the song itself.

As most people probably know, the song was prompted by a BBC news report on famine in Ethiopia. Bob Geldof saw the report, and decided he wanted to try and do something to help. So he called Midge Ure and, together, they wrote the song.

There’s possibly a slight irony in the fact that, musically, this is one of Ure’s best songs, and yet has earned him nothing in return (and, despite the fact that it’s jointly credited to Ure and Geldof, it’s well-known that Ure composed the music and the only collaboration was on the words). With a different set of lyrics, this could easily have been an Ultravox Christmas single, had they wanted to do one. But the lyrics themselves mark it out from countless other charity singles which are, in many cases, merely anodyne cover versions of existing songs.

Do They Know It’s Christmas starts with what seems like a fairly saccharine, Christmas card view of the season, but then kicks into some hard-hitting and direct statements that are intended to challenge listeners. We’re so familiar with the song now – it’s even become a part of our standard Christmas party playlists – that it’s easy to forget that, at the time, the idea of a Christmas song which talked about death was pretty radical. Here are the lyrics, in full:

It’s Christmas time
There’s no need to be afraid
At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time

But say a prayer
Pray for the other ones
At Christmas time it’s hard, but when you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you

And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows
No rain nor rivers flow
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

(Here’s to you) raise a glass for everyone
(Here’s to them) underneath that burning sun
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

Feed the world
Feed the world
Feed the world
Let them know it’s Christmas time again

Feed the world
Let them know it’s Christmas time again

The real tragedy, of course, is that 27 years on people are still dying unnecessarily in Africa. Famine, drought, war, corruption and despotism still leave their mark across the continent.

There may not be a lot that we, as individuals, can do about some of the worst causes of poverty in Africa, such as the civil war in Somalia and the murderous regime in Zimbabwe. But there are still ways that anyone can help, and where even a small donation can make a real difference. As the song says, it’s hard to think of others when you’re having fun, and it’s even harder when we ourselves are living in times of economic uncertainty and don’t necessarily have much to spare. But, in a country where we think that poverty means not having enough money for a subscription to Sky Sports HD, it’s crucial to remember that there are places where poverty means not having fresh water to drink.

Each day, 4,000 children die as a direct result of lacking access to fresh, clean water and basic sanitation.

Every day.

4,000 children.

For the sake of something that is among the cheapest and simplest problems to solve.

The provision of clean water and sanitation, in many cases, requires little more than digging a well and laying some pipes. It isn’t rocket science. It isn’t expensive. And it isn’t glamorous.

Diarrhoea kills more children every year than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. But, despite the fact that we know exactly what causes diarrhoea and how to prevent it, funding for health-related aid (including AIDS) has increased over the past ten years by more than five times the rate of funding for water-related aid.

So if you want to keep alive the spirit of Band Aid, and do something for the world outside your window, then take a moment to make a donation where it will do some good.

Water Aid is the largest charitable organisation involved in funding the provision of fresh water and sanitation in the developing world. Take a few minutes in your coffee break or lunch break to read some statistics, see what you can do and then make a donation.

Because the Christmas bells that ring there are still the clanging chimes of doom. And in our world of plenty, we can still spread a smile of joy. Throw your arms around the world this Christmas time.