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Access to Safe Water
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1. Read the Text and the definition of access to safe water and answer the following questions:

  1. What does this indicator measure? [The number of people who have reasonable means of getting clean water, expressed as a percentage of a country’s total population.]
  2. How is "reasonable" access defined for people in urban areas? [There should be a public fountain or water spigot within 200 meters of the household.]
  3. How is "reasonable" access defined for people in rural areas? [People should not have to spend a disproportionate amount of time fetching water each day.]
  4. What would you consider a reasonable amount of time to spend each day getting water? [Answers will vary.]
  5. How do you and your family get water? [Answers will vary]

2. When people drink contaminated water, they can become ill. Answer each of the following questions briefly, referring back to the Text if necessary.

  1. How many people suffer each year from diarrheal diseases related to dirty water? [Approximately 900 million.]
  2. Which people or age group(s) are at greatest risk? [Children or elderly people are at greatest risk.] Why might this be the case? [Possible answer: Children and the elderly tend not to be as strong as young and middle-age adults, and therefore cannot cope as well with the dehydration that accompanies diarrhea.]
  3. If so many people become ill from contaminated water, why do they drink it? [Possible answers: People may not realize that a water source is contaminated. The body requires water to survive, therefore people are forced to drink whatever water is available. Sometimes people do not know that they can make water safe by boiling it; even if they know how to make water safe, they might not be able to find or afford fuel to heat it. Other times, safe water can become contaminated by being stored in dirty containers.]

3. Using the Text and your own experience, complete the following exercises.

  1. Make a list of some of the ways in which you and your community use water. To the right of each item, write an "H" for household uses or a "C" for community use. Place an asterisk (*) next to the items that probably require safe water. [Possible answers: Household: drinking*, bathing*, washing clothes and dishes*, cleaning, cooking. Community: watering crops and livestock*, waste disposal, source of power, solvent, ingredient in various products, coolant, source of recreation*.]
  2. Which of these uses are likely to pollute water? [With the exception of drinking, all of them to varying extents.]

4. Listed below are some household uses of water and estimates of how much water they use (based on an industrial country plumbing system). From these estimates, answer the questions that follow.

Flushing toilets

3–5 gallons of water per flush

Brushing teeth, washing dishes, etc.

3–5 gallons of water per minute for running tap


5–7 gallons of water per minute


35–50 gallons of water per bath

  1. Assuming that each member of your family had access to 20 liters (approximately 5 gallons) of safe water each day (the amount most often cited as being "adequate" when defining access to safe water), make a list of how you would use the water. [Answers will vary.]
  2. How would you conserve the water? [Answers will vary.]
  3. How could you re-use some of the water for other purposes? [Answers will vary.]

5. In Bangladesh, the poorest people spend 11 percent of their household income on fuel to boil their drinking water. In the urban slums of Nigeria, people spend 18 percent of the household income for water. In Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, the poorest people spend 20 percent of their household income for water.

  1. Find these three countries on the Map. What regions do they belong to? [Bangladesh, Asia (East and South) and the Pacific; Nigeria, Sub-Saharan Africa; Trinidad and Tobago, North and Central America and the Caribbean]
  2. How much would a family earning $40,000 a year spend for water in each of these countries? (Convert each percentage to a decimal by dividing it by 100, and then multiply each decimal by $40,000.) [$4,400 in Bangladesh; $7,200 in Nigeria; $8,000 in Trinidad and Tobago.]

6. Answer each of the following questions briefly, referring back to the Text if necessary.

  1. What are three major contaminants that contribute to the scarcity of safe water? [human, agricultural, and industrial waste]
  2. How can contamination from human waste be minimized? [Through adequate sanitation facilities: basic drainage and sewerage systems.]
  3. How might contamination from agricultural and industrial waste be minimized? [Agriculture: use fertilizers and pesticides more carefully; use natural predators, such as other insects that prey on destructive bugs without damaging crops, instead of pesticides. Industrial: introduce cleaner methods of production that generate less pollution and waste; use safer methods of waste disposal]

7. What does it mean to say that safe water is an "economic" good? [There is a limited supply of safe water and there are various consumers who want it.]

8. Why is it important for all of the consumers of water to be part of the decisionmaking processes concerning safe water and sanitation? [If some people are left out of the decisionmaking, there is a chance that not everyone will get the services they want and are willing to pay for.]

9. Use the Text, Charts, and Data Tables to argue for or against this statement:

The poorest people suffer the most from the lack of safe water.

10. Are there times when people in your community do not have enough water? When? Why? What do people do? Are there any government or community policies to help during these times? If so, what are they? [Answers will vary.]

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