A Frantic World, The Result of Sanitation Absence

Saskia Nur Fadhilah Kusnadi – Environmental Engineering International Program ITB

Sanitary revolution has occurred for centuries. Countless improvements and innovations from this field have emerged to our profound world. These adjustments towards our environmental sanitation have undoubtedly made a huge impact on our lives, especially on the development of disease intervention and prevention, as well as the declining mortality rate over the years. This revolution has been proven by numerous research by known scientists throughout history, gaining huge recognition for its observation of the correlation between sanitary intervention and health revolution. Thus, the question of what would the world be like if there is no sanitary revolution would only come up with one answer; we would have witnessed a world lacking in health development with high mortality sweeping over the countries. 

The great sanitary awakening, which is attributed to expanding and repairing the water supply system by providing more access to water, had an indirect and inevitable impact on the rate of mortality around the world. In the 1800s to 1900s water was widely acknowledged as a luxurious item to the population, only can be used by the noble in its era. Until then, people did not bat an eye on the concern of the sanitary environment. Sanitary reformation only then started to appear when an outbreak arose. This is what happened in southern England in 1882 where a typhoid outbreak took place. Even though this outbreak affected its population in such horrific ways, their government only took action a decade after its outbreak’s emergence by constructing new waterworks in the region (Harris & Jonas, 2019). This dreadful event happened due to the shallow knowledge and understanding of the causation of the disease. They had no idea that there is indeed a correlation between water supply, either in its quality and quantity, and the potential outbreak. Hereby, we know that the world without the awareness of water supply construction and expansion followed by its quality improvement would only result in a potential outbreak due to lack of hygiene that could have been easily prevented. 

 As mentioned above, the number of water resources would not be able to prevent any outbreak of disease if not followed by one other component, which is the quality improvement of water. The public water supplies require controls so it reaches quality standards where it promises safety when being used. There needs to be an effective method for contamination and waste removal that could possibly further spread diseases. There are numerous kinds of diseases that are waterborne and easily moved to humans. However, back then, the sewerage systems that have been developed were not the result of the acknowledgement of the correlation between waterborne diseases and water quality. It was the misconception of “Miasma”, where researchers mistook bad air for the causes of disease transmission. However, this concept has urged authorities to improve drainage and sewerage infrastructure, creating a healthy system and decreasing the potential source as well as the spread of waterborne disease which were responsible for almost 25% of reported deaths from infectious disease in 1900 in major US cities (Vanderslott et al., 2019). Reflecting from history, without the improvement of water quality, people would be more exposed to the deadly source of infections.

Lastly, as the awareness of water supply and water quality’s importance has increased, people began to implement personal hygiene towards their daily lives. When people were mundane to the application of personal hygiene, there would be no significant improvement in people’s health. This is due to the fact that clean people and surroundings play a powerful contribution to the health revolution. By simply taking showers or baths and laundering clothes with the usage of sanitary objects such as soap, people would protect themselves and the community against many diseases, for instance, diarrhoea which in the 1940s became the top-ten causes of mortality amongst infants (Aiello et al., 2008). Although the decrease of this infectious disease was one of the results of the sanitary revolution, the decline of infections would not have been as impactful if not followed by other components such as nutrition controls, pasteurization, and medication development. If the world had not realised the importance of  personal hygiene, we would have easily contracted transmissible diseases which consequently would have plummeted the number of survival for children.

In conclusion, without sanitary revolution, the world would have been frantic, distraught because of the potential outbreak and diseases that would affect people and their surroundings. They would have been forced to face deaths after deaths that would have been preventable by sanitary improvements such as the development of water supply, water quality, and personal hygiene. In short, the world is not prepared for the incoming wave of evolving illness. 


Aiello, A. E., Larson, E. L., & Sedlak, R. (2008). Hidden heroes of the health revolution Sanitation and personal hygiene. American Journal of Infection Control, 36(10). doi:10.1016/j.ajic.2008.09.008

Harris, B., & Helgertz, J. (2019). Urban sanitation and the decline of mortality. The History of the Family, 24(2), 207-226. doi:10.1080/1081602x.2019.1605923

Vanderslott, S., Phillips, M. T., Pitzer, V. E., & Kirchhelle, C. (2019). Water and Filth: Reevaluating the First Era of Sanitary Typhoid Intervention (1840–1940). Clinical Infectious Diseases, 69(Supplement_5). doi:10.1093/cid/ciz610

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