Much ado about ice buckets

The ALS ice bucket challenge has taken social media by storm in recent weeks and is generating plenty of talk, pro and con.

For the ALS Association, the bucket challenge has generated awareness and raised millions of dollars in a short time. School children have enjoyed watching their principals get doused with icy water. Friends and families have come together for a moment of joy and hilarity. And for ALS sufferers such as Lorri Carey, the ice bucket challenge has brought hope. These are all great reasons to call the challenge a success.


There has been a backlash to the bucket challenge, though. Clean water advocates are decrying the waste of so much clean water in a country where some regions are suffering devastating drought and in a world where access to clean water is a struggle for more than 700 million people. Even the ALSA site suggests repurposing the water and offers suggestions of water-free ways to help the organization.

While the waste of clean, drinkable water troubles me, I don’t want to diminish the success for ALS research. Besides, even though I haven’t dumped a bucket of ice water on my head, I can understand why August is the perfect time for such a challenge, and I know I’m guilty of a lifetime of wasting water in fun ways.

So for me, the ice bucket challenge has brought up complex issues of balancing the rights and needs of those of us who live in a privileged place, those who live with a terminal illness and hope and pray for a cure, and those who lack basic necessities and dignities of life.

I reached out to several non-profit groups who raise funds and awareness for clean water projects around the world to ask for their take on the ice bucket challenge. Lopez Lomong—a U.S. Olympian I’ve blogged about before—responded with enthusiasm.

Lomong’s foundation has partnered with World Vision in a project called 4 South Sudan. One of the major goals of the project is to help communities in South Sudan gain access to clean water and sanitation facilities.

Here is Lomong’s challenge:

Take the ice bucket “Clean Water” challenge for the women and children of South Sudan who walk miles every day for clean water. Taking the challenge will give thousands in South Sudan the gift of education, safety and life. Just $50 gives clean water for LIFE to one person in South Sudan.  Thank you for being awesome and bravely taking the challenge to save lives in South Sudan!

So will you accept the challenge? If you have already done a bucket challenge for ALS, consider skipping a second bucket and making a donation to fill someone else’s bucket with clean water.

If you feel like you’ve been missing out on the fun and want to cool off with a bucket of water (and would repurpose the water or conserve water in some other way to make up for it), have at it. Two worthy causes—more research funds to find a cure for ALS and better, safer access to clean water in South Sudan—could benefit from your bucket of fun.

Have you taken the bucket challenge and repurposed the water? Maybe filled up a kiddie pool that you were going to fill anyway? Or stood in a garden that you needed to water? I’d love to hear your creative ideas for repurposing the water. And if you accept Lomong’s challenge to give a person water for life, please let me know in the comments below so I can thank you.

2 thoughts on “Much ado about ice buckets

  1. Often attributed to Abraham Lincoln is the expression: You can’t please all of the people all of the time (he said something more along the lines of “You can’t fool all of the people.”) You’re right that there’s no solution for every great idea offending someone.

    My husband and I have had some lively discussions about the ice buckets, too. He’s come up with several great ideas for conserving water so we can do our ice bucket challenges for fun, including eating one less steak each month (cattle require lots of water and other resources to bring them from farm to table) and turning off automatic sprinklers on rainy days.

    I have another friend who, like you, says we all need to lighten up.

    ALS and safe drinking water are both worthy causes. There’s room for raising money (and dumping buckets) for both in this world of ours. And just to note, the ice bucket challenge didn’t start out attached to ALSA, but that was the organization who benefited from having its name attached when the social media craze took off.

  2. Well, I have talked a lot about this post at lunch the last several days with lots of coworkers and it has brought up some lively conversation. It seems that as a whole, we respect people’s passion and compassion and the cause they are fighting for, and of course most of us volunteer, donate, conserve, have rain barrels and spread the word about charities, but at some point I feel people need to relax a bit. It seems if the ice bucket challenge is an issue for World Vision, then next it could be water-balloons at a school picnic, swimming pools in the neighborhoods, and car-wash fundraisers held by churches for their mission trips. Clean water is an issue for sure, and a very scary and REAL problem that we should address, but there is a reason we are running out of drinking water and the ice-bucket challenge isn’t it. Pollution, mining, dumping, radioactive waste, development, out of date sewage systems, pesticides, deforestation…just to name a few. That’s the real problem.

    With every great idea someone has to help out someone there will be someone else we are offending. I don’t think there is a solution to that.

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