4 Solutions to Solve Indian Open Defecation, and How I Rate Each One

We’re doing this blog post live in one take. I’m going to give you five possible solutions for fixing this problem, and how I think each will work. Please remember while reading this that I am a nobody who doesn’t actually know what he is talking about. No single solution is going to be able to tackle this problem on its own, and it will likely require a combination of all of them.

Solution 1: Education.

My rating: 7/10 for children, 2/10 for adults.

This blog has talked about the efforts the Indian government and nonprofits are working to educate the masses on the benefits of hygiene and going to the bathroom in, well, a bathroom. I do not think that these efforts will be immensely successful. By getting to children young and introducing them to the wonderful world of indoor plumbing, they can have a decent success rate because children are influenceable and can be habituated into healthy behavior. For adults who have been pooping outside for decades, I don’t think education is going to convince them to change the way they go. It’d be like trying to get my  friend’s father to start pronouncing the word “milk” correctly. It’s worked for him for so long the way he does it, why change?

Solution 2: Accessibility

My rating: 6/10

We know that many don’t have a toilet to poop in, but we also know that many who do are still choosing not to use them. If everybody has a toilet, more people are going to use them as a receptacle for their dumps, that’s just common sense. This meets the same barrier that we find with the education problem. If Pajeet has been pooing on the back yard for the last 40 years, giving him a loo isn’t going to make him want to poo in it, at least at first. My father used to say he never wanted a smartphone, but after a few years he never gets off of his iPhone. Can the same logic be applied to toilets? We’ll see. But simply giving people toilets without any sort of social pressure to use them is obviously going to make indoor defecation fall short of its potential.

Solution 3: Environmental Awareness

My rating: 0/10

If you live in a house made out of trash with a dirt floor, chances are that you won’t give a damn about the fecal concentration in the Indian Ocean. It’s hard to get Americans with every capacity to reduce their environmental impact to care about these things, forget about people with much bigger and more immediate fish to fry. Especially when they have to watch everyone around them just keep shitting outside anyway.

Solution 4: Social pressure

My rating: 10/10

I personally act in many ways to deliberately make myself a social outcast, but most people are not like me. If there was a massive campaign to make Raj, Pajeet and Manjula know that it was disgusting and uncool to poop outdoors (granted they had access to indoor plumbing), it would probably work. If somehow the indoor poopers could start shaming the outdoor poopers and turn outdoor defecation into a social taboo, I bet it would have some positive outcome. I’m not going to pretend like I know anything about sociology or the Indian cultural-social dynamic, but it’s an idea. Posters showing that dogs, pigs, and chickens poop outside could be effective. People do not want to be like pigs. Maybe posters could be used showing cows pooing in the loo, since Indians love cows. I don’t know. What I do know is that if everyone in my life replaced their shirts with nipple tassles and began ridiculing me for wearing a shirt, I’d probably get myself a pair of nipple tassels faster than you can imagine, even being a counterculturalist as I am. It would at least be much more effective than telling me that nipple tassels are good for the environment if I got called a gross disgusting animal every time I wore a shirt.


4 Solutions to Solve Indian Open Defecation, and How I Rate Each One

India’s Water is in Seriously Bad Shape

In India, the second most populous nation on Earth, it is estimated that over 70% of all surface water is polluted. As a result of industrial pollutants and biological factors (including open defecation), most of the country’s groundwater reserves have been contaminated in some way as well. Many rivers have been deemed unsafe for human consumption, some inadequate even for watering crops.

India is facing a serious water crisis.

It is estimated that India’s population will continue to explode, so it is foreseeable that these problems will only get worse. As the number of people rises and the availability of resources dwindle, conflict on the subcontinent over access to clean water becomes more and more likely.

This is what Indians might consider a “pretty clean river”

A 2007 study concluded that untreated sewage is the single largest source of water pollution in India. The problem is not only that people are going to the bathroom outdoors, but also a lack of sewage treatment, and that the waste treatment facilities that India does have are not being properly maintained. In 2011, a survey by the Indian Central Pollution Control Board revealed that only 160 out of India’s nearly 80,000 towns had both sewer systems and a sewage treatment plant. In fact, most government-owned treatment plants that India does have are closed most of the time, due to lack of electricity and poor management. In these areas, wastewater goes untreated, and left to seep into the soil or evaporate. In 2013, it was estimated that 80% of India’s sewage flowed untreated directly into its rivers – its main source of water for consumption and irrigation. The most daunting figure is that India produces nearly 40,000 million liters of waste every single day.

The worst culprit is fecal coliform. In order to be considered safe for human use, coliform levels need to be below 104 MPN/100 mL. In 2006, 47% of India’s water contained concentrations above this level.



This problem is exacerbated by Indian monsoons, which transfer solid waste and contaminated soil into rivers and wetlands. Water, which in some places on the Ganges – revered by Hindus as a source of life – is tar black.

One particularly unfortunate 70 year old man interviewed by The Economist in 2008 had contracted typhoid, polio, AND jaundice during his life by drinking Indian water – turning him into a full-time environmental activist.

This all becomes even more troubling when one realizes that India is not yet even industrialized, although it is on its way. According to WorldBank, India’s resources will be under more human pressure than those of any other country by 2020. India plans to sustain its rapid rate of economic and industrial growth, and the environmental destruction which comes with it. If India can not even deal with containing the feces of its people, how will it contain politically contentious environmental emissions that will come later down the line?

If there is hope, it comes from the will of the Indian people. 79% of Indians surveyed said that pollution is a “very big problem,” and activists have achieved environmental victories in India in the past, like in 2001 when a campaign successfully got Delhi to convert its busses and taxis from diesel to gas to reduce emissions in the capital. There remain countless institutional hurdles to be overcome, however, in a country unequipped and seemingly unwilling to clean up its act.

Next week, as promised, more on what is being done.







India’s Water is in Seriously Bad Shape

Why it Matters that the Indian Ocean is Full of Poop


This is a map of the fecal concentration in world oceans. Notice anything? One country, and the ocean which shares its name, appears to be responsible for the vast majority of human feces in the environment. Is this a problem?

Human fecal matter can contain pathogens which spread disease to humans and wildlife alike. In 1998, an estimated 2.2 million deaths were associated with diarrhea, many of them due to fecal pollution of water. This problem is estimated to have gotten worse in the meantime, as population has continued to spiral out of control and little progress has been made to ameliorate problems associated with fecal pollution.

In the 19th century, contaminated water was shown to cause a typhoid outbreak in London, leading the scientific community to accept that sewage was a source of disease. Developed countries began using chlorine filtration to improve the quality of their drinking water, and what followed was a perceptible drop in the prevalence of typhoid. In 1908, there were approximately 30 cases of typhoid per 100,000 people in the US, while in 1990 there were only 400 for the entire population. Typhoid isn’t the only disease associated with human feces in the drinking water. Human poop can contain bacteria like salmonella and e. coli which are linked to a wide variety of major diseases, as well as viruses and protozoa which cause diseases from meningitis to dysentery – potentially deadly without access to adequate care (like in destitutely poor areas of India).

It’s not just the drinking water that we should be concerned about, though. Many foodborne outbreaks are associated with the use of polluted water during production and processing. Shellfish are one food source especially  vulnerable to harmful pathogens in the world’s oceans. Fruit and vegetables are impacted by fecally-polluted irrigation water, which is of special concern for foods eaten uncooked. Water-related foodborne outbreaks have resulted in food shortages, which is concerning in a portion of the world as hungry as India where most food is produced locally.

They’re not even trying to conceal it

The nutrients and pathogens contained in feces introduces a threat to heath of ocean ecosystems, as well. For example, they can lead to an increased level of blue-green algae, which produces toxins and eventually rots, reducing the amount of oxygen in water, leading to the death of aquatic organisms. Human fecal concentration in the ocean has also been linked to a reduction in costal coral, and pathogens in human feces can easily reach marine mammals, reducing their numbers, also.

Besides the fact that the Indian Ocean is probably gross to swim in, these are the reasons why you should care that it is increasingly becoming laden with poop. Next week, I will cover more about what is being done to combat this oceanic contamination.



Why it Matters that the Indian Ocean is Full of Poop

Droppin pants cooler in Panchkula / Cricket to stop the shittin’

If you’re somebody committed to ending open defecation in India, then it certainly is an exciting time to be alive. The Indian Express reports that the Panchkula region of northern India will be free of open defecation by April 15, according to Deputy Commissioner Mandeep Singh Brar .

The method chosen to get people to go to the bathroom indoors in Panchkula is an interesting one. Government officials set up a workshop in a local Hindu temple, and recruited 101 so-called “motivators” from the local region. These motivators’ job is to use psychological tools they learn at the workshop to go around convincing rural villagers that the toilet is the best place to do their business. Local school principals, teachers, and students were invited to the workshop as well, in order to propagate the message further.

Officials chose to take the social-pressure route after other means of combatting the problem have yielded disappointing results. Subsidies have been provided in the region to construct public toilets, and toilets have indeed been built, but residents were still opting to go outside. Census data shows that in 2011, 80% of the region had access to reliable public indoor plumbing, but that 70% of residents weren’t using it. The explanation for this, according to the government, is that “people are aware that it is not good to go for open defecation, but they do not realise that by doing it, they are making the environment unhealthy.”

I, for one, am not totally convinced that informing those who prefer the great outdoors of their environmental impact will itself be an effective remedy. After all, appeals to environmental friendliness seldom work in educated portions of the globe, let alone rural India. Environmental awareness is only one aspect of the program, which has reported convincing results in other regions. Similar initiatives have succeeded in the Indore district of Madhya Pradesh province and Bikaner of Rajasthan, which are now 100% open defecation free.

In related news, the International Cricket Council and UNICEF have teamed up  to educate Indian children on sanitation and toilet use. Cricket is the most popular sport in India, and by setting up clinics where Indian children may learn to play their favorite sport while being taught to use indoor restrooms at the same time, UN workers believe they can instill this important practice into the Indian youth.

“The aim is to harness the enormous popularity and appeal of cricket in this country to spread the word about why everyone should use a toilet.” reports UNICEF’s India representative Louis George Arsenault, “we can achieve this if we come together as a team – then we will see real progress.”

Open defecation takes some of its most serious effects on children, who are often exposed to unclean fecal matter outdoors, and who put things in their mouth without washing their hands. About 40% of Indian children experience stunted growth, with exposure to harmful bacteria associated with feces being one of its chief causes.

At the cricketing clinics, kids get to meet some of their on-field heroes, household names like Yuvaraj Sing, Dinesh Karthik, and Rishi Dhawan, who demonstrate handwashing, play cricket and toilet-themed cricket games with them. A thrilling experience for the youngsters, no doubt.

I had some nice pictures but this school’s IT department insists on using Internet Explorer, which is something like a steaming pile of Raj Patel’s shit sitting on a garbage heap, so you don’t get to see them.


Droppin pants cooler in Panchkula / Cricket to stop the shittin’

Post 1 – History

Every day, according to the World Health Organization, over a billion people in India evacuate their bowels, producing a great deal of waste. The problem is not what they’re doing, however, but where roughly half of them are doing it. Access to indoor plumbing in India is sparse. As a result, 600 million Indians are forced to do their business outside – behind bushes on vacant lots, or in open waterways and back alleys.


But it is more than a simple issue of limited access. Due to the long persistence of the problem, open defecation has become an ingrained norm in rural India. In many cases, people still prefer the gutter to the commode even once adequate plumbing reaches their area. Unsurprisingly, those who have been “going” in public since they were born have a difficult time accepting the toilet as a part of their lifestyle and largely don’t see the point in doing so.

Unfortunately for them, open defecation presents a dire health risk. An increased rate of hepatitis, intestinal worms, cholera, typhoid, and other infectious diseases is associated with inadequate waste systems and hygiene. An average of 2,000 children die every day of diarrhea worldwide, and open defecation was found by the WHO in 2011 to be the leading cause of diarrheal death. Children are especially vulnerable, because they walk barefoot and crawl on the ground, then put things in their mouth without washing their hands, unknowingly ingesting others’ feces. In addition to putting the children at risk of infection, it is also linked to high levels of malnutrition and stunted growth.

The issue with infection does not end at the dumping grounds. Fecal matter becomes soaked into the soil by rain, runs into waterways, and can infect wells and other sources of fresh water. This map of global human fecal concentration in the world’s demonstrates the prevalence of water contamination and highlights how serious the situation is in India specifically.


Outdoor defecation presents a unique danger to women, as well. The lack of private toilets force women and girls to leave their homes at night when nature calls, leaving them alone and vulnerable in the dark, where they are exposed to attack and rape.

There are a number of proposed and attempted solutions to combat the problem. The Indian government has the political will to do something about it – successive presidential campaigns have included public defecation as an issue – but results have been disappointing. Efforts to expand infrastructure and build toilets in India’s rural reaches, accompanied by government propaganda campaigns espousing the benefits of “going” indoors make up the bulk of this drive. Local governments have even gone as far as to pay citizens one rupee for every time they use a public toilet. More in depth analysis to the effort to combat public defecation will come in subsequent posts. Stay tuned.

(defecation is spelled wrong in the blog title. ignore that.)

Post 1 – History