Ice bucket challenge…or not

charles-zhouIf for some reason you haven’t heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge over the past few weeks, it goes a bit like this. Someone posts a video of themselves pouring a bucket of ice water on themselves, then nominates a few of his or her friends to do the same within 24 hours or donate $100 to an ALS charity. Suddenly, your entire Facebook news feed is videos of people pouring buckets of ice water on themselves.

In light of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, I’ve decided to donate to a somewhat related organization. There’s nothing wrong with raising awareness about ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The ALS Association, to whom many people have donated, has four stars (the top rating) from Charity Navigator, meaning they are transparent and responsible with their donations. As of this blog post, ALSA has raised $41.8 million in the past three weeks. Again–there is nothing wrong with donating to end ALS.

However, there are many other wonderful nonprofit organizations out there that deserve the same attention that finding a cure for ALS has received in the past few weeks. I’ve decided to give to charity: water, in lieu of pouring a bucket of ice water over myself and in hopes that at least one person learns something about the importance of safe, clean water.

In the grand scheme of things, the water used by people doing the Ice Bucket Challenge isn’t that much. However, as a public health student, it would be wrong (at least symbolically) for me to waste a bucketful of water. The average American family of four uses 400 gallons of water a day. Except in very rare instances, we don’t think twice about drinking from the tap or taking a 30 minute shower. Only events such as the recent crisis in Toledo give us a very temporary glimpse into how hundreds of millions of people live. Seemingly unlimited clean water is taken for granted here and in many places around the world.

Now on the flip side. It’s not surprising that the United Nations has made access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation a Millennium Development Goal. The World Health Organization has deemed that access to 20 liters of clean water per day, within one kilometer, is sufficient for drinking and basic hygiene for one person. That’s a bit over 5 gallons–an office water cooler jug plus change. Forty-four pounds, carried up to one kilometer. And those are the lucky ones.

While the world has made good progress toward access to clean water and sanitation for all, 800 million people are still waiting. With dirty water comes diseases that most of us haven’t heard of, let alone know how to pronounce (schistosomiasis, anyone?)–diseases that kill millions every year. With women and children as the main people collecting water, walking miles just to get dirty water, kids spend less time in school and women must lead less productive lives. Improved health is not the only benefit to having clean water. In time, it leads to stronger communities, which is just as important.

Now, a bit about charity: water. Since 2006, the organization has funded over 13,000 water projects in 22 countries. It has a unique funding model: 100% of donations like mine or yours (unless you happen to be Bill Gates) go towards water projects, and the costs of running the organization are covered by generous foundations, individuals, and sponsors. Charity Navigator has given charity: water a four star rating. You can learn more about charity: water here and make a donation here.

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