Editor's note: The following expresses the opinion of the author and not ITI.
I’m not excited about the ALS ice bucket challenge, a fund-raiser that involves dumping a bucket of ice water on someone’s head to promote awareness of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a degenerative disease that has no cure. The campaign has gone viral on social media, with videos of people, many of them celebrities, dousing themselves and challenging others to do the same.
After a recent trip to Africa, I cringe watching those videos, especially when I think of all the poor people there (especially women and girls) who walk for miles every day to get the water they need. They would never even consider dumping that water on their heads. It is too precious to waste.
I learned this first hand in northern Mozambique, where I recently observed the distribution of Zithromax® donated by Pfizer to treat and prevent trachoma, an infectious eye disease that causes blindness.
I traveled from village to village, watching people line up to take the medicine and swallow it with water from a communal cup. The water, in a big bucket at the end of the dosing line, came from a community pump in the village. Occasionally, the line stopped moving because someone had to go refill the bucket with water.
I had a similar bucket in the hotel room that was my base camp for almost a week. I’m guessing it held about 5 gallons. The bucket was in a modest bathroom with a sink, shower and toilet. But the faucets and taps did not function. There was no running water in the place. Every morning, a hotel worker would refill the bucket from a water tank in the courtyard. His bucket was on a rope that he lowered into the tank. After it was full, he pulled it up, hiked over to my room, and transferred the water to my bucket.
With this water, I could choose to bathe, wash clothes or flush the toilet. Maybe I could wash my face, but I had to decide which was the priority. I had to ration water. I opted not to wash my hair, and to take a sponge bath so there would be enough left to flush the toilet.
Millions of people in Africa ration their water every day, which is why sanitation and hygiene are so poor. Lack of access to water is a primary reason that disease spreads so easily in poverty stricken communities. I am astounded that in 2014, governments do not see the need to provide basic water and sanitation to all their citizens. Water and sanitation are basic human rights. Until every person on the planet enjoys the same access, I do not plan to dump ice water on my head, even if it is for a good cause.