The Ice Bucket Challenge and Matt Damon

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Celebrities and even the Simpsons have taken on the ice bucket challenge to raise money for charity. How did it start? Why did Matt Damon use water from his toilet?

For the second time this week I’ve been nominated to take on the so called “ice bucket challenge”.

For those who haven’t seen the headlines, or countless stories on social media sites, this is where you fill a bucket with ice and water, pour it over your head, and nominate three friends to complete the challenge in 24 hours. You then make a donation to charity. A simple, momentary painful experience for a great outcome. All tapping into the power of social media. But how did it start?

In mid July a Florida golfer was nominated by a friend and decided that his donation should go to ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), as his cousin suffered from the disease. A chain of nominations later and it reached Pete Frates, a former baseball player who suffers from ALS. US football player Tom Brady then got involved and this is when the campaign started truly going global.

And then the likes of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took on the challenge, before nominating Bill Gates. A Simpsons cartoon was even made to raise awareness. Homer cowardly pours a glass of water over his head before his son Bart drops a host of artic animals and an ice cream truck from the sky on top of him!

According to the official ALS website, donations quadrupled in the last week of August alone. From $22.6 million on August 19th to a staggering $88.5 million on August 26th. Great entertainment for a great cause. What could go wrong? Well, quite a lot actually.

Videos of millions of people pouring water over themselves inevitably sparked accusations of “wasting water”. Questions were asked about tipping perfectly adequate drinking water away while millions in developing countries lack this privilege. One video from Gaza was an eye opener. Three brothers pour buckets of sand, and even rubble, instead of water over their heads. They said they did not have water to waste and intermittent electricity meant they couldn’t make ice. This then started the “Rubble Bucket Challenge”.

Alarmist headlines also reported how one island in Scotland – Colonsay – had its water system shut down due to demand from the ice bucket challenge. Supermarkets were reported to be running out of ice supplies.

Hollywood star Matt Damon, co-founder of water.org, used water from his household toilets (see youtube video below). “The water in our toilets in the west is actually cleaner than the water that people in the developing world have access to,” he said. Mentioning a drought in California, he said that past attempts at the challenge “posed a problem” as there’s about “800 million people in the world” who don’t have access to clean drinking water.

Damon raises a valid point: water scarcity is a global problem and millions, billions if you are talking proper sanitation, lack access.

Not everyone will go to the extremes of the Hollywood actor and “reuse” toilet water for the challenge. Yet how about reusing rainwater from a water butt? Or if you have a garden, stand in a flower patch and give yourself a good soaking there, in the process watering your prize petunias?! Or like the share a bath campaigns, why not share a soaking?

Any campaign that has grown to this scale will no doubt attract its critics. But $88.5 million raised for one charity in a space of few weeks should not be knocked. Especially as this was over 30 times more than the charity received during the same period last year.

More people now hopefully know about ALS and if someone says a family member is suffering, people will be more understanding.

Unfortunately, like every viral phenomenon, the virtual shelf life is quite limited. The old saying for print used to be “Today’s headlines are tomorrow’s fish and chip wrappers”. In a world where social media is now king, and news feeds are updated incessantly every minute, news barely lasts the duration of a day before being replaced.

So yes, I’ll be taking on the ice bucket challenge later and donating. Over my garden (but without the prize flowers)…

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