The phenomenal financial success that has come for research work to treat ALS as a result of the ice bucket challenge has been tempered in Jamaica and other countries with stretched resources by the fact that we have little water to waste. But, though we are in drought, the fact that US$41 million has been raised so far this year for the cause, compared to a mere US$2 million during the same period in 2013, is amazing.
The concern about wasting water in Jamaica is right and proper, but it is like many things where you have to think whether a greater good can be served by doing what seems to be against the right behaviour. Sure, it made little sense for a government minister to do the challenge in her office and with her computer at risk. It just looked careless: acknowledge that a bit more thought was needed there and move on.
Clearly, some people are just interested in publicity for themselves and the ALS researchers benefit from that. Of course, so-called celebrities get enormous publicity and that serves them well. But, being dunked in ice and water has led to much wider awareness of a serious problem, and raised money to fight against it.
In many senses, the challenge has gained from being first. Ironically, the challenge did not start as something in support of the ALS Foundation. Other good causes may be able to copy but the ice bucket idea is now likely to stay associated with ALS. Perhaps, the next challenge would be a cream pie in the face idea. The fact is people are being asked to do something that is personally uncomfrotable and raise money in the process. There’s no shame in not doing the challenge, because you are supposed to donate anyway. Many have taken the challenge and donated. Position and protocol have come into play. The US state department has banned diplomatic service staff from doing the challenge.
I think Jamaica can find a happy medium of supporting and being mindful of our drought. The water involved is a drop in the ocean. It’s also not a constant misuse of water. If we are going to rail against waste, then let’s show that we care about water conservation ALL the time.
Yes, it seems incongruous that children can be asked to take water to school to flush toilets, while we have people using water and ice to douse themselves. But, they’re not necessarily competing uses of water. Stopping the challenges won’t get water where it’s needed, because our problem is as much about distribution as it is about volume. If we could truck the water used around the island to other places, we could make a dent. But, how much water are we talking about in total? A truckful? Five? We can’t fix that by stopping the ice bucket challenge activities, in the same way it won’t be fixed by stopping people from making tea or mixing cold drinks. Yet, the benefit that comes from the icy dousing is immense.
Yes, there’s a symbolic aspect to ‘wasting’ water, and we could have salved our conscience if we heard that desalinated water were being used, or brackish or undrinkable water. Then, we could raise other issues, such as hygiene.
If we really care about waste and the environment, let it not just show up as a reaction and then revert to our wasteful and careless ways. That’s hypocritical. That’s also very Jamaican. A country famed for not planning for its inevitable and regular problems is always looking for scapegoats. It’s found a few new ones.