Mr. Poo

I visited India for the first time a few years ago, and ever since I have been thinking about the enormous problem of public defecation. It is not quite as au courant a topic as, say, human trafficking, but in terms of the number of lives affected, it has massive implications because of the spread of disease.

The latest attempt to make progress on this problem is a music video launched by UNICEF.

It is truly amazing to me that this video got made. Not because it will or won’t work, but just because it is so odd. But I like it!

What do you think? Will this have an impact?

I have my own views on how to attack the problem; I’ll write those up on the blog when I have a chance over the next week or two.

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.



  1. Steve Bradford says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Ian says:

      @Steve, bet he has, in a sort of a “what cannot be unseen” way…. I know I am!

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    • David says:

      Is it so difficult to believe that someone could see a health/economic problem and think about it? Would you believe there are people who think about how to cure cancer, alzheimer’s, fix homelessness, shorten the wage gap, etc?

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      • Steve says:

        David, I wasn’t saying he shouldn’t (or didn’t) think about it. It’s the “ever since” language I was making fun of. You’re taking a piece of humor seriously.

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  2. Neil says:

    This video might not have the intended impact on public defecation problem. People who can understand the language and the message in the video, already have access to the loo. Nobody in their right mind would love to involve in this kind of activity. But people in India are still doing it. This problem is more pronounced in the regions in overcrowded cities where people live below the poverty line.
    Wikipedia search on ‘Poverty in India’ shows “Poverty in India is widespread—in 2014, the World Bank reported that 11.8% of all people in India fall below the international poverty line of US$ 1.25 per day.” This means about 150 million people are living below the international poverty line. Many of them live in overcrowded cities. When you are living in such dire conditions, having your own home is next to impossible. So people live in slums paying meager rents. Slum owner don’t have incentive to build toilets since building the toilet means wasting the land. That land can be used to build extra home in the slum which can bring some cash. There are few public toilets near the slum area but those are maintained properly. Many of them don’t even have a running water. Think of the ordeals you have to go through to attend the nature’s call when you don’t have access to the reasonably clean loo. That is when unthinkable happens!
    In areas away from overcrowded cities, public defecation is still a problem. The reasons are mostly poverty and lack of running water. Government came up with a plan to award subsidies to build the toilets. People who build toilets using subsidies don’t have running water at home to maintain them. Other people who are poor would rather take the money(intended for construction of toilets) through the corrupted official and use it for making ends meet.
    People can’t afford or don’t have incentive to build the toilets. Government has to step in to provide enough clean sanitation facilities for the people. I can’t think of any other solution to this. I look forward to Mr. Steven Levitt’s article about this problem.

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    • Christina says:

      @Neil: Your comment to be part of a blog post, instead of lost among comments. 😉

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    • carlosmx37 says:

      ” People who can understand the language and the message in the video, already have access to the loo. “…good point!

      Not related with poos, but I do think interesting,.The comment of Neil,made me recall an campaign In mexico,against buying ilegal copies of movies.

      Precisely Us,who preferred to see the movie at the adequately equiped place,.and be some of the very first to enjoy that blockbuster,.and the association of exhibitors instance of starting at least some trailers ,.exhibited again!,. commercials with the campaign against buying illegal copies of movies!,..!!

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  3. Sarah says:

    Seems like the target audience would be folks who don’t have ready access to in-home or at-work sanitation. If someone doesn’t have a toilet at home, are they likely to have a computer or a smart phone? Or is the target audience far more wealthy than I would have assumed?

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  4. Sara says:

    Deeply weird! I thought the issue in India was lack of adequate sanitation facilities. Do people defecate in public in the presence of toilets?

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    • carlosmx37 says:

      In some countries,even if the price to use “public ” restrooms, is only 30 cents of dollar,.that is a lot of money!

      A lot of money compared with paying nothing.

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  5. Zach Prewett says:

    Mixed feelings really. I am ashamed to say that I was pulling for the poo by the end of it.
    Not to mention the millions of lives that could be improved by means of transpoosion.

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  6. Georgie Shauchalay says:

    Everything about this video beings is a complete disaster like what were they thinking their target demographic is, and what it would finally achieve.

    I am an Indian and I find this deeply insulting in a “white man’s burden” sort of way. But yes, self-righteous disconnected sanctimonious “liberals” in Europe and America can watch this and slumdog millionaire and other such and feel good about themselves.

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  7. Ashley says:

    What a weird video! I watched a ted talk on this a while ago and was surprised by how much of a problem public defecation is. Hope the video helps, I kind of doubt it though

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  8. acon says:

    Wow that was odd. The way I can see the video being helpful (and this is probably the intent) is that it has the potential to go internet viral and as such many people of priviledge will see it and become aware of a problem which they had no idea and perhaps be compelled to donate to the cause of helping the poo get to the loo. The intended auduence isn’t the people that need convincing to use a toilet (that probably doesn’t exist) it’s marketing for fundraising (and for a compelling enough cause).

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  9. David Rosam says:

    Will it have impact???

    I think it’ll certainly stick :-)

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  10. Maria Laura says:

    Hi! I think this is a nice idea, building on an old UNICEF view on how to eliminate the problem of open defecation. They believe than in rural or peri-urban areas, the key component of adopting latrines is behavioral change and not a problem with hardware construction. They do this sort of advertisement in several ways in countries of West Africa as well. check
    I’ve just finished a randomized controlled trial to look at the effect of a campaign aiming at behavioral change to stop open defecation and build latrines, and it has a very important impact on latrine take up.

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  11. Seustwain says:

    Purpose of the video ???
    It is in English & most people in Canada do have a Loo.
    Even built some for the bears outside Huntsville. Very progressive.

    It was interesting as a video.

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  12. shruti says:

    Public defection has so many layers to it. I’m a design researcher, working on a ramification of human waste project for India. It will interesting to know what you think about it, its still work in progress.

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  13. Sharmila says:

    The reason people in developing nations don’t use a lavatory is that – even where basic plumbing exists – these are far more disgusting than outside (aka public) defecation. Self-interest (the horror of stepping into one of these tiny feces-drenched cubicles – try it and see for yourself) far outweighs their public interest in preventing disease. It is not that they don’t know that they shouldn’t defecate outside, it is that they simply find it a far better option. Therefore I don’t think informational videos such as this (even though cute and quirky) will make a difference until the basic problem of unclean toilets is addressed.

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    • Sammy T says:

      I completely agree with you. If it is a better option to take care of it outside, wouldn’t you do it too? Plus something like that is a problem that can be fixed. It just hasn’t.

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  14. john says:


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  15. tony says:

    Yes, it’s a big problem

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  16. Sammy T says:

    While as far as I can see it will definitely get some attention. But I’m not sure it will get the right kind of attention. People may take this as a joke simply it’s rather comical. It it however a valiant effort at trying to make a point. But if I had watched this out of the context of UNICEF, then I would have thought it was just for the sake of making people laugh. Good try though.

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  17. John Taylor says:

    Brilliant! I am absolutely confident that people Like Laxmi Mittal will spare one of his Billions to help! Maybe the corrupt politicians in India can take 2 minutes from counting their ill-gotten gains to actually “Give a shit” about their Country and people worse off than they are while sipping their Gin and reading about the daily rape of female children and women being burned alive by their husbands for their illegal dowry. Its a beautiful Country, with so much going for it, but the corruption is a way of life from the village policeman to the top — and the people have no self discipline and little self respect in the main. It is so sad to see it in a place I love so much. Cant see any way out but a violent revolution!

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  18. Harper says:

    Human feces can harbor some really nasty diseases. I’m glad UNICEF is making such a stink about this.

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  19. sushill says:

    The clip is very well done however this clip is asinine.It is like most things the UN does.
    Its in English, are they telling the educated Indian(who speaks English) not to shit outside?
    You will be hard pressed to find an Indian who can speak English shitting in the open. And since this Levits blog…let me put it in numbers..1 in a 1000 at best. Will this have an impact? Wrong question—as this is not even targeted at the right people. And please do not tell me the last six lines in Hindi will make the impact it needs.

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  20. KR says:

    I am one your regular listeners of your Freakonomics podcast from India. If you have a solution to this problem, why do not you guys make an episode on this?

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  21. Jagannath Kumar says:

    Creativity executed in its best form for the betterment of society. Great Job !! However, the video could also include cartoon characters and a little bit of animation that cater to the rural class.

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  22. Taylor S. says:

    Hilarious video but the message of taking the “poo to the loo” takes too long to develop. And, as others have mentioned, not sure if the audience this is intended for would have the means to see this.

    It’s pretty clear that basic sanitation is one of the most vital components of health and human safety. I came across a review (by Michael Edesess: of Angus Deaton’s book: The Great Escape: Health, Wealth and the Origins of Inequality. I confess that I have not read the book yet, but the review highlighted:

    “Most of the progress occurred in the first phase – life expectancy in England and Wales increased from 40 to about 70 between 1850 and 1950, primarily because of decreased child mortality. What accounts for this success? Says Deaton, “Decreased child mortality cannot have had much to do with medical treatments, such as new medicines or drugs such as antibiotics, sulfa drugs or streptomycin for tuberculosis, in part because most of the decrease in mortality took place long before such treatments were available, and in part because the introduction of the drugs did not result in any sharp changes in mortality from the diseases that they treat.”

    Almost all of the increase was from improvements in public health and sanitation, motivated by the discovery of the germ theory of disease and the consequent realization that fecal contamination of drinking water was the primary cause of the spread of disease. To combat this cause, collective action was necessary to create public health and sanitation systems. Most of the improvement in life expectancy resulted from these public health improvements.”

    With all of the talk of financial inequality these days, we’re losing sight of the wider gap between the poos and the poo-nots (in toilets).

    Anyway, not certain that this video is the way I would’ve handled the topic of public awareness/education. Perhaps there are more “viral” ways to do this (no pun intended)? I would imagine that Twitter or Facebook or WhatsApp (or whatever) may have better distribution and viewership and a shorter message may be more readily translated. See Arab Spring for the impact a poignant message can have via social media.

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  23. Alison says:

    My husband worked in Bangalore where the smell was horrible. Every day he had to walk on a bridge over the heinously smelly “poo river”. I think the poo campaign is good but I don’t think it addresses the core problem: poverty. The people who are pooing outside are people who live in shantytowns where no sewage systems exist. I doubt they want to poo in a river next to where they live. They also have no choice to bathe and wash their clothes and pans in there. Mind you, this is downtown Bangalore in vacant lots next to big beautiful corporate buildings. I’m afraid the Indian government is so inept and corrupt they’ll never address the needs of the poor. The caste system doesn’t help either.

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  24. andy31 says:

    India is amazing

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  25. 164 says:

    We might be missing the point here. If we really want pooping to take place on a toilet, then the authoroties might want to build community toilets that are clean and smell good like their Western counterparts. They need to be maintained and cleaned.

    Lets look at Indian’s toilet behaviour in terms of individuals doing what is in their self interest. If they are pooping outside then the alternative has to be pretty bad.

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  26. Mary Dawson says:

    A little disturbing. But it gave me an idea for an incentive: — toilets that pay people for using them!

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  27. Mary Dawson says:

    see NYT 7/15 Poor Sanitation in India May Afflict Well-Fed Children With Malnutrition
    By GARDINER HARRIS and also the comments regarding the politics of building toilets.

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  28. Ashwini Gowariker says:

    I live in India, and can vouch for the fact that there’s very little exaggeration in the video! We have a lot of dairy farms where I live, and cows and buffalos add to the poo count every morning on their way to the fields. But since dung is used both as fertiliser and fuel, it’s scooped up in minutes by people who’re not even employed for the job! I think the trick would be to make human poo more profitable!

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