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.