The Evolution Of Sanitation Through History
The provision of clean water and effective sanitation has been the bedrock of human civilization since early societies began to form cities. Any large settlement that neglects its water sources and sanitation risks its citizens falling ill or dying unnecessarily. Technology and infrastructure have always struggled to keep up with relentless growth in human population size, but thankfully modern cities in developed countries have now managed the feat. Nonetheless, in the developing world, there are still crowded cities that are striving to provide clean sanitation for their inhabitants. Even today in 21st century England, rivers such as the Cam in Cambridge, can become polluted and threaten human health.
In primitive times, humans would found their cities next to nearby sources of drinking water, like natural springs or even rivers, for basic sanitation. Ancient civilizations such as the Minoans in Crete used underground clay pipes for both drinking water and wastewater removal. A basic primitive stone sewer was periodically flushed with water and they also used advanced heating systems. In later centuries, Ancient Rome was able to support a vast population of over a million people by transporting huge quantities of water by using their famed aqueduct.
European settlements in the Middle Ages had natural waterways that were used to divert wastewater where possible. These features were eventually covered over and became the basis of a sewer system. Often these open drains rang along the centre of the street which led to terrible smells for the inhabitants of these cities. Under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Sir John Harrington invented the first flushable toilet.
The Industrial Revolution led to huge numbers of people from the countryside coming to work in the cities. Starting in Britain before spreading to Europe and North America, the opening of factories and the subsequent crowding of cities quickly led to cramped and unsanitary conditions for its people. The prevalence of terrible diseases such as typhoid and cholera led to huge infrastructure projects, such as the London sewerage system, being built between 1859 and 1865. Extensive modern sewerage systems soon spread across the world and were later followed by chemical treatment systems to clean water.
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