At least a dozen countries have asked the International Monetary Fund for help as the popular “Ice Bucket Challenge” looms, threatening to cast the world’s most destitute people into absolute poverty.
The Ice Bucket Challenge is a fundraising strategy devised by the ALS Association, which aims to raise research funding for the neurodegenerative disease commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Participants who are publicly “called out” must either pour a bucket of ice water on their heads, or opt out by making a donation of $100. Afterwards, each participant calls on three more people to complete the challenge.
For the world’s poor who have little access to ice — let alone abundant supplies of water — the threat of being called out is keeping them in a state of constant fear, so a coalition of nations led by Ethiopia has sent the IMF an urgent plea for emergency legal funding to find a way to avoid getting entangled in the no-win deal.
“We just want to be left alone,” said Emal Khan Ahmadzai, an Afghan scrap metal vendor whose annual income is less than the 100-dollar penalty for not completing the challenge.
Mandour Salih, a goatherd from northern Sudan, says after he was tagged to do the challenge by a cousin in the UK, he travelled for a full day through the desert heat to get to a village rumored to have an ice machine — only to be told it was broken. In the end, he was forced to donate the full amount to the ALS Association, leaving him broke.
“Now, I have no choice but to sell my youngest daughter for a dowry,” Salih said. “Thanks a lot, ALS Association.”
Haitian prime minister Laurent Lamothe is urging residents of his country to avoid all social media and electronic communication, arguing that if someone does not know she has been tagged to do the challenge, she is under no legal obligation. Lamothe is advising Haitians to also avoid taking phone calls from abroad, or from opening letters sent by relatives and friends in countries where the Ice Bucket Challenge is gaining traction.
Lucie Gibson, spokesperson for ALS Association, says poor countries shouldn’t think they can escape the grasp of the Ice Bucket Challenge by fabricating stories about not having enough ice, or by pretending to have been cut off from Twitter.
“The rules are clear: if you are called out, you must pour a bucket of icy water over your head and upper body within 24 hours, or else you pay the penalty,” Gibson said. “The rest of the world understands, so I fail to see why some homeless former child soldier from Liberia should be excused.”
“And as for you smug Eskimos who think you’re getting an easy pass thanks to the fact your house is made of ice and you take baths in tubs of ice cubes, don’t be so sure,” she added. “Everyone still has to make a donation”
A source from within the UN Development Programme said the agency is planning on distributing at some 10,000 tons of ice to various impoverished nations, so that the poorest residents can quickly douse themselves with ice water even before they are asked to do so — a move that should provide some legal cover in case of a lawsuit.