Thoughts on the Ice Bucket Challenge

I realise this isn’t anything to do with what I usually blog but this has been playing on my mind for a while. Now that I’ve been nominated it seems a good time to write up my thoughts. It is a bit of an essay but don’t worry, this won’t happen regularly.

I’ve decided not to do the thing with the water and donate money instead. If, as everyone keeps saying, this is about charity and awareness then the water bucket seems kind of irrelevant. I’m also not keen on it because of the subtle peer-pressure involved along with the often cited argument that it’s raising awareness, despite the majority of videos not mentioning it at all beyond a brief reminder for people to text Ice.

The majority of videos don’t seem to do much for ALS awareness; all the actual knowledge I’ve gained of the condition recently has been through my own research. Granted, I wouldn’t have done that without the challenge existing, but my point is how many others actually have any increased awareness of ALS now besides being reminded it exists? That’s one of the problems I have with the actual bucket part of this; watching people get soggy isn’t conveying much by itself.

Whilst the overall idea of this raising awareness and money for a charity is great (the specific ALSA part was added later) I think everyone should first evaluate if donating to ALSA is actually the best use of a money donation. There’s a lot of easily accessible information out there and after spending a bit of time looking through it I think the money would make more of an impact elsewhere.

At this point I think it’s important to clarify that I think Lateral Sclerosis is completely horrific. It paralyzes muscles within the body to the point that doing anything can prove impossible, whilst more often than not being a death sentence within a few years of diagnosis. I’m not writing to say that anyone’s wrong for wanting to help cure it, and I want to make that very clear.

However, it is also a very rare condition, with “an incidence of 1 to 3 [cases] per 100,000 people”. The number of people living with ALS worldwide is estimated to be just 450,000. Purely to contrast, there are about 17.3 million (17,300,000) deaths a year due to heart disease.

But perhaps more significantly, there are estimated to currently be about 9 million refugees from the conflict in Syria.

Syria isn’t the only cause that needs the money urgently; Ebola is currently a massive global emergency. Even just relating to the actual bucket of water, 768 million people have to use unsafe drinking water around the world.

There are charities where donations make an immediately quantifiable difference – donations to Against Malaria for example guarantee mosquito nets, which have direct impacts on people’s lives.

In contrast based on their recent tax returns, an ASL donation has a 27% chance of going into research that might possibly one day help someone (the full tax form’s here, but I prefer the chart below). I recognise that large charities take a lot to run, but that really doesn’t seem like the best use of money to me when compared to alternatives. There’s a site called GiveWell that ranks charities based on how transparent they are with where donated money goes, give that a look.



From the ALSA website.


But perhaps the most important reason to donate to a different charity is because the Ice Challenge has already been a massive success. The ALSA has raised $94.3 million in donations this year compared to $2.7 million last year. That’s fantastic, but at this point it almost feels to me like further donations are taking away from where money is needed right now; Syria, Iraq and central Africa all have on going conflicts, casualties and refugees, along with Ebola being a major threat to life. After thinking it through I decided to donate to DEC to help with Syria as well as enough for two nets for Against Malaria, purely because it wasn’t all that much and is a clear, definite way of helping people.

Please don’t think I’m specifically against this Ice Bucket challenge or ASL or anything like that. If after reading this and/or looking into it you’re making an informed choice and still think supporting ASLA or ASL research through another charity is the way to go then great, but I think everyone should consider if there are other causes that would benefit much more from the money rather than just following the trend.

That’s what this whole thing is about isn’t it, raising awareness?



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