Time for some ‘sustainable charity’

Water and electricity wasted because of the Ice Bucket Challenge could have provided water to 17,777 households and lighted up 16 million households

By Soma Basu
Published: Sunday 31 August 2014

Water and electricity wasted because of the Ice Bucket Challenge could have provided water to 17,777 households and lighted up 16 million households

For the last couple of days, my Facebook wall is getting filled with videos of people pouring bucketful of ice on themselves.

The Ice Bucket Challenge has gone viral but I don’t know why I thought the ‘virus’ was contained outside the geographical periphery of India. I realised my mistake when recently I saw videos of my friends taking the challenge and daring their friends to do the same. It has scared me and I pray every day before logging in. I hope the prayers would save me from my friends who could be potential ice bucket challengers. Honestly, I didn’t know what it meant. I read it had something to do with ALS. I didn’t even know the full form of ALS nor did the videos tickle my curiosity to find out what it meant till my colleague explained it in her article

So far so good. I finally found out that that nearly 30,000 US citizens suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and the ice bucket challenge was started to educate ignorant persons like me and collect donations that could be used to eradicate the disease. Soon, I was tagged in a video on Facebook that showed an ALS victim emphasising how life is for him and how the challenge lifts his spirits.

But I still failed to understand how pouring a bucket of ice has anything to do with ALS, a disease so critical. The challenge is: it dares nominated participants to be filmed while a bucket of ice-cold water is being poured on them ‘or’ donate $100 to the association; the person posting the video tags others and they have to dare to do the same. The use of ‘or’ in the sentence is very important. Does that mean that all the people who took the challenge and poured ice on themselves did so to avoid paying $100. The challenge poses new confusion for me every day. 

But what I found really, really irritating was: why do we have to waste so much water for awareness? Is it because the campaign designers could not think of anything better? So, I started doing rough calculations. 

A Facebook report, quoted widely by several newspapers and websites, says that since June 1, 2014, more than 1.2 million videos of people taking ice bucket challenge was posted on the social networking site. This means 1.2 million people across the world took the challenge. If the average size of the bucket is accepted to be 10 litres (though several videos show people using a bigger bucket), 12 million litres or 12,000 kilolitres of water has gone down the drains because of the challenge. Could all this water be used for a better purpose? 

I start calculating again. The Union Ministry of Urban Development’s benchmark for per capita water usage is 135 litres. Average size of a household in India is five members. So, every household needs approximately 675 litres of water, which means 12,000 kilolitre water could have provided water to more than 17,777 households.  The 12,000 kilolitres of water that was wasted just because “it was fun” could have provided water to 88,888 people. 

According to various reports, the average distance that women in Africa and Asia have to walk to collect water is 6 km and the weight of water they carry on their heads is about 20 litres. Today, 1.1 billion people still do not have adequate access to safe water and 2.4 billion people are without appropriate sanitation. 

Several Hollywood and Bollywood actors have also been active takers of the challenge. The first video of the challenge that I saw was of Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher and they have pretty much been doing what others did ~ pour a bucket of ice on themselves. Matt Damon was perhaps the first in the entertainment industry to do something different. He poured toilet water on himself to make a statement on water conservation. According to his statement to various media, he said that quality of drinking water in several countries is worse than toilet water in the US. So, to save clean water from being wasted, he completed the challenge using toilet water. 

Several Bollywood actors and actresses have also declined the challenge. Priyanka Chopra, for instance, did not take the challenge but Sonakshi Sinha was the first one to say that the challenge was waste of water. Some people have also been saying on the Internet that people who complain about the challenge should compensate for the wastage of water by spending five minutes less under the shower! Well, why not spend five minutes less under the shower and at the same time save the bucket full of ice too?

The challenge has not only triggered water wastage but also electricity. I start rough calculations again and this is what I found. It is estimated that around 1kWh (unit) energy is required to get around a bucket (10litres) of potable water and another kWh to make it ice cold. So, the recent Ice Bucket Challenge taken by each person is wastage of about 2 kWh of electricity. 

If 1.2 million people have taken the challenge and used their fridge to make ice, total energy spent comes to around 24,000,000 kWh.  Now, the average electricity required to run two CFLs and two ceiling fans for 24 hours comes to roughly 1.5 kWh. 

According to reports, 75 million households in India do not have access to electricity. So, with the energy wasted for the challenge, 16 million households could have been lighted up. 

California slaps fines on challenge takers
Now, I don’t know whether I belong any of the categories of Ice Bucket Challenge haters, but it is the time for some “sustainable charity”. If people really care about ALS patients, they should just donate and not waste resources such as water and electricity. It seems at least the California government agrees with me. They have stared slapping fines on Ice Bucket Challenge participants for wasting water in the drought-prone region. 

PS: A journalist in Gaza started a campaign where people dump a bucket full of rubble on themselves. Instead of water, which is scarce in Gaza, and ice (there is no electricity there) people are dumping rubble on themselves to raise awareness about the people whose houses were razed to ground. 


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