Instead, the millions of dollars of international aid intended to buy food for starving Ethiopians was used by rebel groups to buy weapons.
The 1985 Live Aid and Band Aid concerts, organised by Bob Geldof in the UK and the US, raised $250 million.
As images of emaciated children were beamed around the world, Geldof took to the stage at Wembley Stadium in London to plead with an audience of countless millions to dig deep for the poor people of Ethiopia.
But the BBC’s investigation has found most of the money raised was diverted to buy weapons and support the rebel movement.
Northern Ethiopia was the scene of the famine which claimed one million lives. It was an area hit hard by drought and civil war.
Aid agencies had no choice but to work with the rebels to reach the starving in Tigray and Eritrea.
Former rebel army commander Aregawi Berhe was a member of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front. Mr Berhe now lives in exile in the Netherlands.
He says $100 million raised by the international community was divided up by rebel army leader Meles Zenawi, who is Ethiopia’s current prime minister.
“We were using aid money to buy arms through secondary means,” he said.
“In 1985, when Tigray was hit by the terrible famine, aid money was flowing.
“I remember Meles Zenawi suggesting that 50 per cent of that money should go to activities, 45 per cent should go to organising and 5 per cent to support the victims.”
The allegations are supported by a secret CIA assessment written at the time which states that aid money was “almost certainly” being diverted for military purposes.
One of the traders who sold grain to Christian Aid in the 1980s has also told the BBC he was in fact a senior rebel commander posing as a merchant.
The executive director of Bob Geldof’s charity One, Jamie Drummond, went back to Ethiopia last year to check on the impact of funds raised in 1984.
“It was 25 years ago. There was a Cold War going on and people were trying very hard to get the money and above all food aid through to the starving millions, mainly in Ethiopia,” he said.
“By and large that effort was really successful and many, many tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, were kept alive by these programs.”
Mr Drummond says Geldof and his charity are confident the majority of money raised by Live Aid and Band Aid made it to those for whom it was intended.
“There was excellent auditing in the process. You can never be confident that every single penny gets to the ultimate destination, but you can be by and largely confident the vast majority of it did,” he said.