UNICEF launched a campaign, Poo2Loo, in a bid to stop public waste dumping and open defecation in India at the end of 2013. To give an impetus to the campaign, an animated mascot- inevitably a pile of feces- has been added to it. In fact, on April 18, the campaign took another turn with the launch of a music video featuring dancing, singing, anthropomorphized lump of brown, Mr. Poo.
In the light of the campaign, several startling facts have come to light. India has the largest number of people in the world defecating daily in the open. This half of the population of India (620 million) dumps about 65 million kgs of feces in public. 44 percent of mothers dispose of their children’s feces in the open which leads to contamination of water and may cause an outbreak of diarrhea. Children who suffer from frequent bouts of diarrhea are more likely to suffer from malnutrition and infections like pneumonia. Access to sanitation in rural India is on the rise, but it is not improving at a reasonable rate- about 70 percent of the people in rural India do not have access to toilets and almost 28 million school children do not get proper toilet facilities in school.
If this is not stopped soon, life threatening diseases and infections would spread rapidly. Water safety is being compromised by open dumping of fecal matter that contaminates drinking water supply in rivers and community wells.
To this grave problem, UNICEF has taken a less serious approach. The campaign’s website is full of quirky and terrible games like Toilet Trek, which is a low tech game that asks users to ‘Collect all 25 rolls of toilet paper and find a safe, clean toilet… For too often, a safe, clean toilet is just out of reach’. The website also contains videos showing the mascot approaching people in public, generating expressions of embarrassment.
This comedic approach to the campaign is targeted to raise more awareness about the adverse effects of open dumping. A Twitter and Facebook feed are also being used as a part of the campaign.
Genevieve Begkoyian, the Chief of Health in India, UNICEF said, “We are trying to really call those who can’t have a voice and can’t really help in decision making at the highest level... It’s a matter of dignity and a matter or empowerment of the people.”
The campaign has partnered with the government to implement change in the public toilet system and public education programs are being conducted as well. Elynn walter, Sustainability Director of WASH Advocated (a US baded global initiative promoting safe water, hygiene and sanitation) said, “This kind of continued education is really important to get the message across. All of a sudden they’re aware of the impacts of defecating out in the open.”
UNICEF’s goal is to get India to follow Bangladesh and Nepal’s example. In 2000, Bangladesh implemented a community led total sanitation approach and reached its 100 percent sanitation goal in 2010. In 2005, Nepal launched awareness programs that improved sanitation in the country.