Monday, 26 January 2015

An Uncomfortable Topic

Nick Baker, Communication and Knowledge Management Officer

JAKARTA, 14 January 2015 - My first press conference at UNICEF Indonesia was one I will not soon forget. Why? Because attending journalists were aged from nine to 12 years old and the main subject was poo.

Ten students participating in Media Indonesia’s Reporter Cilik (Young Reporter) Programme were invited to interview a UNICEF Officer to learn more about an uncomfortable topic - open defecation.

More than 54 million Indonesians defecate in the open, because they don’t have a latrine or a toilet. It’s the second highest number of any country in the world. Only India has a higher number.

WASH Specialist Claire Quillet told the students how open defecation is linked to many preventable yet potentially deadly diseases such as diarrhoea and pneumonia. These are chief contributors to more than 370 under-five deaths per day in this country.

And open defecation is not confined to poorer rural areas. A recent UNICEF/World Health Organisation report found that 18 million people in urban areas of Indonesia also still defecate in the open.

But it was not only the numbers that surprised the aspiring journalists. They also seemed particularly interested to learn that the problem can affect everyone in Indonesia. “Anyone can get ill from excreta in their environment,” explained Ms. Quillet. “It is a problem that can potentially affect your families and friends as well, wherever you live.” 

WASH Specialist Claire Quillet answers questions posed by Reporter Cilik participants.  ©UNICEF Indonesia/2015/Nick Baker.

Having only been in the country for one week, I admit I was stunned as well. I had no idea that open defecation is such a big and potentially dangerous problem in Indonesia.

Apparently I’m not the only one. There is still very limited public discussion about this topic in Indonesia. Events like the Reporter Cilik press conference aim to change that.

UNICEF Indonesia also recently launched a campaign called Tinju Tinja (Punch the Poo) campaign – a social media blitz to inform people about the health implications of open defecation. It involves a nefarious poo-villain who wreaks havoc in cyberspace and has generated significant interest across Facebook and Twitter.

The campaign appeals to those who follow it on digital media to act as change agents in their communities and families and to promote the use and construction of safe latrines.

The government now aims to put an end to open defecation in the whole country by 2019. The UNICEF campaign aims to help achieve this challenging goal.

The students left the UNICEF Indonesia offices to write their news items for Media Indonesia (the country’s second largest daily newspaper) and other publications.

Hopefully their pieces will continue to raise awareness of the risks related to open defecation – and encourage all Indonesians to become part of the solution.

Never before had I been so interested in a discussion about poo.