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The Poop on UN Week

25 September 2010 No Comment

WaterAid's giant poo

WaterAid poo in Times Square to call attention to sanitation needs of the developing world during UN Week

“Do you mean: poop suit?” Google asked.  It was that kind of week.

A giant turd was terrorizing Manhattan — lurking in Central Park and Times Square, trying to gain entry to the United Nations. Even UN Week’s Digital Media Lounge had to batten its hatches against the fearsome feces, which taunted the inhabitants via Twitter:

Want to meet the giant poo?

Meanwhile, in an unrelated incident inside that same Digital Media Lounge, a flurry of tweets were nominating a diarrhea celebrity:

  • @ithorpe – OK – I seriously think we should all crowdsource suggestions for a celebrity spokesperson for diarrhea. Suggestions?
  • @LCMoy – Sir Mix-a-lot?
  • @laurenist – I think @JoshMalina was saying he needs work.
  • @BreadHolly – Jane Lynch. She’s the shit.
  • @viewfromthecave – Flavor Flav will naturally work. Just change the neckwear.
  • @voiceteam – Winnie the Pooh?

A Diarrhea Celebrity?!

Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen was relating his experience raising money to fight two big killers — malaria and diarrhea — and getting only money earmarked for malaria. “I wish there was a rock star against diarrhea,” quipped Elizabeth Gore of the UN Foundation. “That would be awesome.”

Think about it for half a second and you see the difficulty.  Diarrhea is simply not a sexy disease.

It is, however, lethal.  Diarrhea kills 1.4 million children a year — more children than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined, according to the World Health Organziation, whose studies report more troubling facts like these:

  • 50% of childhood malnutrition can be attributable to repeated diarrhea.
  • In developing countries half the people in hospital are suffering from diarrhea.

Which leads us to the giant poo.

Poo Takes Manhattan

The turd was in town to call attention to the lack of sanitation in the developing world.  WaterAid (tagline: “Dig Toilets, Not Graves”) says the topic of sanitation is about as welcome in the UN as the giant poo was.

“It would be funny if it wasn’t such a serious matter,” said the poo, also known as Kate Norgrove, WaterAid’s head of campaigns.  The organization reports that 2.6 billion people live without safe sanitation, producing the equivalent of a football stadium full of feces every day.  And every gram of feces can contain 10 million viruses, one million bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts, and 100 parasite eggs.


Worse than yuck, of course.  Fecal matter causes the majority of the illness in the world. Water-related disease kills 3.575 million people every year — almost as many people as live in Los Angeles.  Whatever you think of L.A., you have to admit the situation justifies Turdingnagian measures.  We in the West need no longer fear the feces, but for those in the developing world it may as well be the monster the WaterAid poo pretends to be.

The Meme Expands

The poo meme expanded until it seemed to take over UN Week altogether.  Diplomats poo-pooed their usual differences as they cooperated to pledge money for women’s and children’s health.  Celebrities obviously felt like hot sh*t at the cocktail reception Wednesday night, congratulating each other on their progress in meeting the MDGs.  And everyone who worked for an NGO went back to their hotels every night utterly pooped.

The meme reached its full fruition, though, when Oxfam International pronounced its verdict on the week:

The summit has been a mirage. The promises look good from a distance, but the details are hard to see, and when the world’s poorest people most need help, pledges could still vanish into thin air.

In other words, Oxfam called the week’s accomplishments bullshit.

(This post originally appeared on VOICEhub September 25, 2010.)

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