Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The ice bucket challenge and water scarcity

There’s an emotive internet meme that illustrates the contrast between a group of Americans dousing themselves in ice water for the #icebucketchallenge and an African child being fed a bottle-cap full of water.  A serious point made about the relatively scarcity of that precious commodity in two geographies, but sadly eschewing the challenge in aid of Motor Neurone Disease (the UK name for that debilitating and fatal condition) will not help those who are thirsty. Yes, I’ve done the challenge, but not without considering the wider impact of my actions. After reflection, on balance, I decided that to support those with the disease was a good thing and that – after a year in which flooding was more of an issue in my country than drought – we could afford a bucket of water.

It’s easy to criticise symbolic acts taken to raise awareness and funds for charity, but the important thing is that, on balance, the good strongly outweighs the cost. Everybody who participates should understand that the action does not in itself benefit anybody – it’s the giving it prompts or the awareness it raises that counts. I know when I do the Live Below the Line challenge that I’m not really experiencing what it’s like to live below the breadline, but I get to raise a little cash for organisations that support those who do and I spend more time reflecting on their situation than I otherwise might.

The #icebucketchallenge has really captured the public imagination. Some are doing it for their own preferred charities, others are finding creative ways to make it their own with costumes, props and crazy scenarios and as long as nobody puts themselves in danger that’s all fine too. I’ve found it uplifting to check my Facebook account and see it filled with my friends doing crazy things for charity. And yes, it’s good that we’ve having fun while we do it, too.
So my advice is do the #icebucketchallenge mindfully, and if any aspect of it tweaks your conscience then find a way to alleviate that with appropriate action. If you’re worried that it encourages people to waste water, use what’s left over from washing up, collected in rain butts and so on, and invite your friends to find creative sources of used water (hygienically, one hopes!). Concerned that the charity concerned may be associated with animal testing? Choose a charity you’d prefer to support and give the friends you nominate the reasons why.
In a world where selfishness, prejudice and inequality cause so much conflict, the viral nature of the #icebucketchallenge has kindled a generous spark in many of us. As such, it has enormous power to be a uniting force for good – so let’s not dismiss and criticise it, but look for ways to make the good just that little bit better.