Water Supply

As in most nineteenth-century cities, the streets of Seoul were "filthy, dirty lanes" flanked by ditches that drained house privies and sewage. Refuse was poured into the ditches with the hope that it would eventually disappear into the river. Wells were dug conveniently close to major city lanes, which unfortunately meant inevitable contamination with sewage from the nearby ditches and, thus, intestinal diseases such as diarrhea and dysentery. The situation was similar in small towns and rural communities using water from wells, springs, creeks, and rivers. Both produce and water were generally contaminated because of the use of night soil as fertilizer.

It follows then that much sickness and death could be attributed to contaminated water, although most adults were partially immune because of constant infection. In addition, the custom of drinking tea or water boiled in the rice kettle provided some safety.

In the twentieth century, the problem began to abate somewhat, and by 1944, the larger cities and towns had modern water facilities, and public health laboratories were involved in testing food and water (Simmons et al. 1944). The conditions that had prevailed in the nineteenth century, however, created fertile soil for not only dysentery but also cholera and typhoid.

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