Why I don’t love this ice bucket thing
Lately every time I log onto Facebook I’m hit with a deluge of people dumping buckets of ice water on themselves for charity.
Over the past couple of days I haven’t been able to stop myself from listing all of the reasons I think this is ridiculous every time I see a new video pop up, so instead of subjecting my like-minded friends to yet another rant, here’s a blog.
So, why am I so annoyed that a bunch of people are raising awareness via social media and donating to ALS research? Because you don’t need to waste a bucket of POTABLE water to support a charitable organization.
What is potable water and why is it obnoxious to dump it over our heads for a social media stunt?
Potable water is water that is clean/safe enough for humans to consume. The developed world uses a lot more potable water than necessary for a wide variety of things, such as washing cars and flushing toilets - the water that removes your feces from your immediate environment doesn’t really need to be clean enough to drink. For those of you who don’t know (and given the state of awareness for water issues in the US, it’s not really your fault if you were unaware), much of the water in the developing world is not treated, and therefore not potable.
In Cameroon, if I want to drink water I either need to purchase a sealed bottle, boil, or filter it. Sometimes it’s necessary to add a small amount of bleach before filtering, or to boil and filter. The water I shower and clean my house, clothes and dishes with isn’t fit to drink. So it becomes a bit irksome to see lots of people happily dumping out buckets of potable water because they can.
But as for the main reason the bucket challenge annoys me, look at the sheer amount of water being used. The one bucket you’ve just poured out is probably about a week’s worth of showers if I don’t wash my hair. It could probably wash 4-5 meals worth of dishes. It could probably cook about 10 single person meals. Or it could flush my toilet 2-3 times. It could clean all of my floors if I was for some reason inclined to wash them. And it could be used to supply me with at least a week of clean underwear.
That’s cool, you say, but we have so much water and it’s super easy to obtain, so what’s the problem?
Well, from what I understand there’s a pretty bad drought in the Southwest at the moment, so no, actually you don’t have “so much water.” Also, wasting resources because you personally have a surplus is not what all the cool kids are doing.
To provide some contrast, let me tell you how I get water in Cameroon. Living in a regional capital, I actually have a really luxurious water situation. Every couple of days the water comes on for a few hours in my kitchen, typically at a trickle, and if I have an hour or two to spare I can collect enough to fill up my water trashcan and my filter. If I use the water sparingly and strategically that can last for about a week if I need it to. I also leave a couple of buckets outside to collect rain water, and there’s a well in my compound that I can use if I need.
As running water is nowhere near close to the norm here, many of my fellow volunteers have to either go to the well or forage themselves or hire someone else to do it for them. A trip to the forage usually involves several jerrycans, a wheelbarrow, and a walk that can be as short as 30 seconds or really fucking long, depending on how lucky you are. I can say from personal experience that wheeling several jerrycans back from the forage is not an enjoyable task. Some people have to hike into the jungle and get their water from a stream and carry it home.
So yes, when you look at all the things that bucket of water could potentially do and the effort that most of the people I know here have to put into obtaining it, it does seem kind of obnoxious to waste it on a social media stunt. Of course I can only speak for myself, and I haven’t met any Cameroonians who are familiar with the ice bucket challenge, but looking at how water is used here (for example the water from the laundry will often be used to wash the floors, and the water from the dishes or a shower will be saved to flush a toilet if the household has one), I can’t imagine that an ice bucket challenge would ever catch on here.
Although that is pretty much how everyone showers anyway, so maybe I’m not thinking creatively enough…
Speaking of creativity, let’s address the creative aspect of the ice bucket challenge. Half of the battle of changing something is raising awareness about the issue, so I see what the engineers of the ice bucket challenge were going for. They’ve done a spectacular job of getting everyone’s attention, but I maintain that you can get people’s attention in less wasteful ways.
For example, the jump into a pool/ocean/stream/other body of water with your clothes on or donate challenge. Or the plant a tree or donate challenge. Planting a tree would be a huge pain in the ass, I’d rather just donate. Adopt a kitten or donate: everyone wins! Read a book or donate - people in the US don’t read enough. Call your mother or donate. I would double the suggested amount.
The moral of this blog entry: If you want to donate to charity, that’s awesome. I salute you. Carry on. If you want to congratulate yourself for your valiant slacktivism, it would be cool if you could do that privately.