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08/26/2014 10:24 am ET | Updated Aug 26, 2014

'Rice Bucket Challenge' Reminds World How Scarce Clean Water Is In India

Manju Latha Kalanidhi works as a reporter for Oryza, a niche publication devoted to rice. When she saw the social media craze known as the ice bucket challenge (which asks participants to raise funds and awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease) taking off in India, where she lives, she immediately thought of the type of statistics she deals with routinely -- a quarter of all undernourished people worldwide live in India, and 103.8 million people there lack access to clean, safe water, according to Water.org.

"I put one and one together," Kalanidhi told HuffPost in a phone call, explaining her new take on the social media phenomenon. Billed on its Facebook page as an "Indian version for Indian needs," the "rice bucket challenge" enlists participants to share pictures of themselves donating rice to those in need. The callout has struck a nerve: In less than 24 hours, the Facebook page has amassed 15,000 "likes" and reached 80,000 users.

It makes sense that an alteration would resonate with the Indian public. Given water scarcity issues in the country, "the idea of dunking oneself in icy cold water, shrieking in horror and then uploading the bizarre video felt preposterous," Kalanidhi told Quartz soon after the launch. "I wanted to just do something local, meaningful without wasting anything. So rice replaced water here."

Like its predecessor, this movement is spreading. Indians who've emigrated abroad seem "tickled," Kalanidhi says, by the "very Desi, local challenge," strategizing mass donations out of American suburbs to food-based charities in India such as Akshaya Patra Foundation, an organization which aims to feed every schoolchild in the country. Because Kalanidhi's campaign is not affiliated with a single food bank, donors choose their own recipients.

It's yet to be seen what the returns will be, but Kalanidhi calls the response at home "astounding" given that hunger is hardly a new buzz word in India. Among the largest mass donations so far is a pledge of 2,000 kilograms of rice, from a group of college students in Hyderabad. She jokes that her math went all wrong: "I put one and one together and I got 22."


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