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About the Author

Hemant Jain
Writer, designer (Mumbai, India)

I am a writer and illustrator. I like to tell stories about the world I live in and keep a tab on India's environmental crimes here:


MDG?: More Indians have access to cellphones than toilets.

Published 15th April 2010 - 7 comments - 8131 views -

Every day we read about 8% economic growth. 10% economic growth. Predictions are being made of a richer, brighter future. While in reality more than half of India doesn't even have access to toilets. We must constitute 50% of the world's population which defecates in the open.

The New UN study is a wake up call to this reality.

Here is what The Times of India says (click on the link for the full report): In slum areas, where more than half of Mumbai lives, an average 81 people share a single toilet. In some places it rises to an eye-watering 273. Even the lowest average is still 58, according to local municipal authority figures.

Unsurprisingly, it is still common to see people squatting by roads and railway tracks or along the coast, openly defecating in the city that drives India's economy and where some of the world's richest people live.

The UN estimates that 600 million people or 55 percent of Indians still defecate outside, more than 60 years after the scrupulously clean independence leader Mahatma Gandhi first talked of the responsible disposal of human waste.

A few years ago I made an advertisement for a newspaper. It was put up in Mumbai on a billboard. Then taken off the next day as it was considered 'too political'. Every day 350 million of us see people defecate in the open. If we acknowledge that, it is too political. If we don't, we can cherish our 8% growth.

Oh, joy!



  • Lara Smallman on 15th April 2010:

    Thanks for posting the UN study up.

  • Robert Stefanicki on 15th April 2010:

    Nice drawing. In Poland we also have anti-defecation campaign, its goal is to make dogs owners remove their pupils’ poops. Not mentioned in MDG, though important for city dwellers.

  • Stefan May on 15th April 2010:

    Hemant, did you read this article already?

    I think the problem is the public utility trap: if the state is inept or unable to provide a service and if there is no way that the people organise it themselves those affected (usually the poor) have to live without. Cellphone technology breaks through this because the technology needs almost no public infrastructure (if the technology wouldn’t be available, the text rightfully states the people would still angrily wait for the state or some private monopoly to build landlines), but cellphone providers can compete even for very small profits and so the poor get something for their buck.
    Sanitation traditionally needs a lot of investment and doesn’t bring much profit, thus it used to be realm of the state. But maybe if there is a feasible waterless toilet system for private low-income households, some entrepreneurs will make it work. I think India might just be the place where this could happen. What do you think?

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 15th April 2010:

    Hi Hemant,

    Nice illustration. Captures the point. Keep them coming.

  • Hemant Jain on 17th April 2010:

    @Stefan You are absolutely right. And there are efforts going on in our country for feasible waterless toilet systems. I am sure we will do better if we get over the corruption.
    Here is a nice little debate you may like. From the facebook page of my blog:!/photo.php?pid=3322301&id=117782539228

  • Jodi Bush on 18th April 2010:

    I like the poster you put together for the campaign.. shame it didn’t get more visibility. It’s a serious matter, but one that can easily be taken for granted by those who have access to functioning toilets wherever they go. Even when they’re camping!

    @ Stefan - I think you make an excellent point. There is always enough money if their is profit to be made, but that predominately comes from the private sector. It’s unlikely the private sector would get involved unless the government offer lucrative contracts. Something innovative needs to be done.

  • Hemant Jain on 21st April 2010:

    @Jodi, thanks!
    Well, I hope more people start thinking like Stefan in India. In fact, there is a great example of pvt sector’s involvement in making public toilets in india. Will dig out a case study and post it soon.

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