It’s India’s dirty little secret. Open defecation is a common practice among half the population living in rural and urban slums. That’s 620 million people producing 143 million pounds of waste everyday. Aesthetics aside, it contaminates drinking water causing diarrhea, which can lead to malnutrition, infection and parasites.
There’s a movement to end the practice by improving access to latrines. Only a third of households have water closets, or flush toilets, according to a 2011 census.
UNICEF is raising public awareness about the problem with the Poo2Loo campaign, which includes a series of PSAs starring a mischievous mascot named Mr. Poo. Among them is music video featuring Mr. Poo and his friends causing trouble around the country until the people unite to build a giant toilet bowl. The catchy song urges, “Let’s take the poo to the loo.” More than 100,000 people have signed the website’s petition addressed the president of India.
Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa has pledged to eliminate open defecation by 2015 in Tamil Nadu, the largest state in India. Her commitment has been applauded by Jairam Ramesh, Minister of Drinking Water and Sanitation.
“We spend far too much time on spirituality and far too less time on sanitation,” Ramesh said following a visit to a Reinvent the Toilet exhibit by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Our salvation lies in sanitation, not in spirituality. What is the point in having a clean mind and clean body if the entire environment around you is mugged up.”