Lesson 6: Water and the World

Grade 5-9 (health, science and social studies)
Grade 10-12 (health, science and social studies)

Topic: A brief look at the world’s view of water.

Time: 60 minutes

Space Requirement: Regular classroom

Methodology: Class discussion

Materials: Overheads, handouts

Objectives: Students will look at how the world views water, what’s being done to improve water quality and access, and statistics regarding water.

For the Teacher: The goal for this lesson is for students to see that water quality and access are worldwide issues that need to be addressed. They should be shocked by the statistics and motivated to do something to improve the situation. They might feel very small (what can grade 5 students do to improve the world’s water?), but encourage them because the next lesson should empower the students and give them an opportunity to make a difference. The overheads should be printed off in colour to get the full effect of the pictures.


  1. Using the posters and maps prepared in lesson 3, have the students identify areas in the world with many drinking water problems. OR Put up a map of the world showing areas of water stress and have students identify areas with drinking water problems. The overheads are available below. (5 min)
    The students should identify areas such as Africa, Asia, India and South America.
  2. Put up the “World Statistics” overheads (see below) and discuss each section:
    Have one student read two or three points for each section and discuss the information and the corresponding picture. (50 min)
  3. Have the students complete the water journal entry: “What would you do to change the water situation in a developing country?” (5 min)
  4. Hand out the fact sheet for lesson 8 (Human Rights, link below), and have each student write one question to ask the guest speaker. Have them hand their question in on the following day, so that you have time to review the questions, prior to lesson 8.

Evaluation: The students should be evaluated on the quality of the answers they supply during the discussion.

Resources: The following resources and handouts are found below:
- Water Stress Maps
- Water and Sanitation in the World Overheads (same for elementary and high school)
-  Water and Sanitation in the World Discussion Questions
- Water on the International Agenda (supplemental handout for high school; covers world water issues in terms of large meetings and conferences)
- Websites that Can Make a Difference (can be turned into a handout, if desired)

Extension Activity: The Safe Drinking Water Foundation has other educational programs that can be taught with this set of lessons. Operation Water Drop examines the chemical contaminants that can be found in water; this program is designed for a science class. Operation Water Flow explores the use of water and where it comes from; this program is designed for a Social studies and Math collaboration. Operation Water Spirit presents a First Nations perspective of water and water issues and is designed for a Native Studies or Social Studies class. Operation Water Health explores common health issues surrounding drinking water in Canada and around the world and is designed for a Health, Science and Social Studies collaboration. To access more information on these and other educational activities visit the Safe Drinking Water Foundation website at www.safewater.org.

Sources and Related Links:
- Cost-Benefit Analysis: Treat the Illness or Treat the Water? – a SDWF fact sheet
- Human Rights – a SDWF fact sheet

Water Stress Maps:

World Fresh Water Resources Per Capita
Water Stress Indicator: Withdrawal-to-Availability Ratio

Water and Sanitation in the World

Some statistics you should know:

  • There are 1.1 billion people who do not have access to safe drinking water.
  • About 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation (toilets, sinks, laundry facilities).
  • Ten years ago, 31% of the world’s population did not have enough water to meet basic human needs.
  • By 2025, it is expected that two-thirds of the world’s population could experience severe water stress.

Picture 1

People collecting dirty water

Basic Water Information:

  • 1% of all the water on Earth can be used as drinking water.
  • Between 30% and 70% of fresh water supplies in developed countries (like Canada and the United States) are lost due to leaks in the water systems.
  • All rivers in the world eventually run into the sea but some rivers are drying up before they reach the sea! This means that the water is being used faster than it can be replaced.

Picture 2

People with dirty water

Water Use:

  • The average person in the United States uses approximately 380 litres of water per day.
  • The average person in Canada uses approximately 335 litres of water per day.
  • The average person in a developing country like Ethiopia might use 20-30 litres of water per day.
  • People living in slum areas might have only 5-10 litres of water per day!

Picture 3

Drinking a Small Amount of Water


  • Only 37% of people living in rural communities in developing countries have access to sanitation facilities.
  • 81% of people living in urban communities in developing countries have access to sanitation facilities.
  • About 90% of sewage and 70% of industrial wastes in developing countries are dumped right into water sources without treatment.

Picture 4

Collecting Water

Health Issues:

  • Every year, more than 2.2 million people die from diseases associated with poor water quality and poor sanitary conditions. Most of the deaths occur in developing countries.
  • Half of all the hospital beds in the world are being used by people suffering from waterborne illnesses.

Picture 5

Collecting Water in Jugs

Gender Issues:

  • There are different and complimentary roles for men and women surrounding water throughout the world. In many instances, women and girls are responsible for collecting drinking water for their families. That often means walking long distances and carrying heavy water containers every day.

Economics of Water Treatment:

  • For every $1 US invested in making drinking water and sanitation facilities better, there can be $4 to $34 US gained by the community. This gain can be in the form of increased number of productive days (to go to work or school), less healthcare expenses (from waterborne illnesses), or increased lifespan.
  • If the water is further treated by filtering and chlorinating, there can be $5 to $140 US gained by the community.
  • If $11.3 billion US was invested every year until 2015 to improve drinking water and sanitation around the world there would be an economic payback of $84 billion US.
  • The WHO estimates that if everyone in the world had access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation there would be an increase in productivity equal to $700 million US/year!
Kids Drinking Water

Journal Question:
What would you do to change the water situation in a developing country?

Source: http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/index.shtml

Water and Sanitation in the World Discussion Questions:

  1. Is there a reason why has it taken so long to make water a world concern?
  2. What is water stress?
  3. What type of leakage can cause lost fresh water?
  4. How many of you have poured out a glass of water? Can this action be considered leakage?
  5. If 2.6 billion people have no sanitation facilities, where does the sewage go?
  6. Is it possible that some Canadian communities are dumping sewage and industrial waste directly into water supplies?
  7. In developing nations, women are responsible for gathering water. Is it possible that by educating women, the world’s drinking water situation can be changed?
  8. The water that is gathered by women in developing nations is most often very contaminated and unsafe to drink yet in Canada, we use drinking water to flush toilets and put out fires. What can we do differently?

Picture 1: What is this woman doing?

Picture 2: These women gather this water for washing, drinking and cooking. Would you use this water for those activities?

Picture 3: This little girl is treasuring every drop of water. When did you last drink some water?Did you take it for granted?

Picture 4: Is there something different between this woman and the women in Picture 2?
- better containers, seems to be getting water from a source other than what she is standing in, looks cleaner

Picture 5: How efficient is cleaning or cooking when you use filthy water?

Picture 6: Should everyone have the right to access clean water? How can you ensure that they do?

Water on the International Agenda:

Water on the International Agenda 1
Water on the International Agenda 2
Water on the International Agenda 3
Water on the International Agenda 4

Websites that Can Make a Difference:
World Health Organization. Water for life: Making it happen.
World Health Organization. Water sanitation hygiene. 
End Water Poverty. http://www.endwaterpoverty.org/
Government of India Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation. https://mdws.gov.in/
African Water Facility: https://www.africanwaterfacility.org/en/