Though well-intentioned, ice bucket challenge is all wet

Updated: 2014-08-26 10:09

By Chang Jun(China Daily USA)

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Public agencies in China should hit the brakes fast and hard to stop the Ice Bucket Challenge, a viral campaign aimed at raising public awareness of (and donations for) the rare neurological disorder amyotrophic lateral sclerosis(ALS) - better known as Lou Gehrig's disease - even if it is intended for a good cause.

First and foremost, China cannot and should not afford the luxury of wasting tons of fresh water for this gimmick while many of its territories are experiencing the most severe drought in decades with no immediate relief in sight.

Secondly, the challenge is currently heading off the charity rails and in danger of turning into a commercialized fad at best.

Started as a campaign in the US to help the ALS Association, the challenge has involved celebrities and ordinary participants videotaping themselves pouring a bucket of ice water onto their heads, then throwing out challenges to their friends (or foes) to do the same. Those who decline the challenge are expected to send a check for $100 to the ALS Association.

Though well-intentioned, ice bucket challenge is all wet

There is no doubt that the craze serves a noble cause and has achieved goals beyond its wildest dreams. The bucket gag has brought in $53.3 million from 1.1 million donors worldwide (compared to a mere $2.1 million in the same period last year), according to the ALS Association's progress report as of July 29.

The campaign has been so well-received through viral social media penetration that it's already defined as one of the most successful public philanthropic movements in history.

China did not get on board with the challenge until Lei Jun, CEO of smart phone-maker Xiaomi Technology, accepted the challenge from DST chairman Yuri Milne on Aug 18 and showered himself over the head in public with a bucket of ice water.

From then on, hundreds of high-tech industry leaders and celebrities throughout China, including the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, have joined the carnival and kept the list of participants expanding.

The most recent development took place in Beijing's high-tech hub - one company gathered 1,000 members of its staff, all in company uniforms with prominent logos, and had them pour buckets of ice water on their heads in unison while chanting company slogans.

For fear that the challenge, which has already resulted in thousands of gallons of water being wasted in China, would continue to squander even more of the most treasured natural resource, a group of farmers in Henan province launched a counter-campaign on Aug 22 to protest the ALS challenge.

"Stop the Ice Bucket Challenge in China" and "Cherish Our Water Resources" their posters read. The farmers of Luzhong County expressed their concern that the water bucket craze would harm local agriculture, as they have been struggling with their most severe drought in 63 years.

Scarce rainfall and scorching heat have damaged more than 1 million hectares of farmland in Henan and Inner Mongolia provinces this year, according to Xinhua.

With precipitation at less than half normal levels this year, about 900,000 hectares of crops in Henan alone have been affected. In some regions of the province, governments have shut off water supplies to commercial swimming pools and bath houses, while water intensive industries have been asked to restrict usage, said the report.

"We, as a group of concerned and responsible citizens, can't justify why we should waste our water on the challenge and ignore the fact that other people are suffering from drought and face possible hunger this fall and winter," said an editorial in a Henan newspaper.

Moreover, the challenge has lost its moral authority and somehow transformed into a slapstick sideshow. What started as a campaign to help find a cure for a devastating disease has quickly evolved into a national competition for fame and attention and thinly disguised marketing of products and services.

"We noticed that the Ice Bucket Challenge in China is now entering a stage of being overly entertaining," said Zhang Taofu, a journalism professor at Fudan University. "With so many celebrities joining in for their own agendas, we might run the risk of the charity campaign derailing and going off track."

A side note to those ardent Chinese in the audience - local authorities in California decided to impose hefty fines on anyone participating in this ALS Ice Bucket Challenge on the grounds that they are wasting water, massive amounts of water. As of Aug 15, anyone who is caught taking part in the challenge will be fined $500 under the Water Conservation Act.

Maybe it is better to just decline the challenge and send the ALS $100.

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