A short comparative history of wells and toilets in South Africa and Finland

07 January 2011

This paper describes the technological development of wells and toilets and the cultural practices related to them in two countries, South Africa and Finland, from the Middle Ages to modern times. Wells and toilets have always been linked to the well-being of humans and they still are the most common technical systems in the service of mankind. They are simple to build, but if they are constructed improperly or stop functioning properly, they may endanger the health of both humans and the environment. The solutions used for getting clean water or for disposal of excrement have always been a matter of life and death for human settlements. Located on opposite sides of the world, the climate and natural resources of South Africa and Finland are very different. However, surprisingly similar solutions, for example wind turbines to pump water, have been used in rural areas. Furthermore, urbanization and industrialization occurred in both countries at approximately the same time in the 19th century, which caused increasing environmental problems in Finnish and South African urban areas. The transition to modern water supply and waste disposal systems was a very demanding process for municipal administrations in both countries.