Story: Sewage, water and waste

Causes of death, Christchurch, 1875–1910

Causes of death, Christchurch, 1875–1910

Infectious diseases transmitted by contact with excrement, such as typhoid fever, dysentery and diarrhoea, were rampant in the late 1860s. So were scarlet fever, pneumonia, tuberculosis and other diseases transmitted by breathing. At the time all of these were classified as 'zymotic’ – derived from the Greek word for fermentation. This classification correctly linked these diseases with people crowding together close to rotting waste, impure water and air. Death rates from these conditions plummeted in New Zealand cities once sewerage systems were introduced. Christchurch’s sewerage system was completed in 1882.

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Source: Geoffrey Rice, 'Public health in Christchurch, 1875–1910: mortality and sanitation.' In Linda Bryder, A healthy country: essays on the social history of medicine in New Zealand. Wellington: Bridget Williams, 1991, p. 96.

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How to cite this page:

Christine Dann, 'Sewage, water and waste - Dirt and disease', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 7 July 2022)

Story by Christine Dann, published 11 Mar 2010