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.


Yes, it's a big problem

Sammy T

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.

John Taylor

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!


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


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.


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?

Jagannath Kumar

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.


Taylor S.

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.



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.


India is amazing


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.

Mary Dawson

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

Mary Dawson

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.

Ashwini Gowariker

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!