It’s extremely encouraging and exciting that thanks to technology, viral videos, and social media ‘clicktivism’, the American ALS Association has been able to collect US$ 13.3 million in donations since July 29, from 260,000 new donors. This will surely help the 30,000+ Americans who have ALS, and boost the chances of a long-term cure. The ‘ALS Ice Bucket Challenge’ has been a revolution in charitable giving. But I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the ice-bucketeers around the world (outside America) stopped for a minute to think, “isn’t there an issue closer to home that needs awareness and fundraising more than ALS in America?”.
Yes, we are all global citizens and we should care about our fellow humans in another part of the world – that’s inherently a good thing. But I couldn’t help but think about it slightly closer to home, because it is really quite alarming how quickly we jump on the bandwagon for a foreign cause (#SaveGaza or #ALSIceBucketChallenge), forgetting some critical causes that need the same level, if not more, awareness and fundraising here at home. So what is most ironic is that while Sri Lankans, including high-profile folks like rapper Iraj , dunk buckets of clean fresh water on their heads to raise money for a foreign charity, 1.2 million Sri Lankans (and as high as 1.8 million according to some reports) in six provinces across the country are suffering from a crippling drought that has lasted nearly half a year, threatening people’s health, crops, and agricultural livelihoods.
This interesting article tries to calculate how much water would have been dunked in all the Ice Bucket Challenge videos online.
“If an average bucket contains 4 gallons of water, about 5 million gallons of water have dunked heads from coast to coast. That’s the equivalent of about 120,000 baths or, in weather terms, over half an inch of rain falling on a 300 acre slab of land.”
A simple back of the envelope calculation would suggest that if just 20 Sri Lankans were to “take the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge'” in the coming days, they would be wasting between 250-300 litres of water (a bucket is roughly 3-4 gallons, or 11-15 litres?). Meanwhile, nearly 8,000 families in drought-hit areas reportedly have had to resort to purchasing bottled water for their most basic needs. According to NewsFirst, “water distribution institutions that operate in the area with the authorisation of the National Water Supply and Drainage Board, bring water to these villages in bowsers, and then sell it to the villagers at a price of Rs. 3 to Rs. 4 a litre”. If 20 Sri Lankan ice bucketeers were to donate a total of just Rs. 1,200 to these villagers, that would cover the costs of 300 litres of water for them.
I think any campaign that raises money for a good cause, a legitimate charity, is always welcome. It’s even better when the world is sounded out about it, and there is global solidarity. I see nothing wrong in ‘gimmicks for giving’, but I couldn’t help but reflect on the irony of the numbers. I’m glad that 30,000 plus Americans who are suffering with ALS will have a better chance at treatment, and eventually a cure. But closer to home, 1.2 million of our own people are suffering from a 6 month drought. Isn’t this something to think about the next time we see a Sri Lankan wasting a gallon of water in #ALSIceBucketChallenge video?