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Access to Safe Water Teaching Activities (with Answers)
Access to safe water is measured by the number of people who have a reasonable means of getting an adequate amount of water that is safe for drinking, washing, and essential household activities, expressed as a percentage of the total population. It reflects the health of a country’s people and the country’s capacity to collect, clean, and distribute water to consumers.
  • More than one billion people lack access to safe water. Close to two billion people lack access to sanitation. Most of these people live in low- and middle- income countries.
  • Each year, nearly a billion people suffer from diarrheal illnesses caused by unsafe water. Millions more suffer from other water-related diseases. Poor people, especially the very young and the elderly, tend to be the most at risk.
  • Safe water is scarce because it is often undervalued and used inefficiently.
  • As a country's economy becomes stronger-as its GNP per capita rises-a larger percentage of its people tend to have access to safe water and sanitation.
  • Thoughtful decisionmaking by all user groups generally leads to improvements in the supply of safe water for all people at affordable prices.
Exploring the Access to Safe Water Text

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

Showering

5–7 gallons of water per minute

Bathing

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 the 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.]

Exploring the Access to Safe Water Map

Access to Safe Water, 1990-96

1. Study the map and answer the following questions:

  1. According to the map key, which color represents the countries with the lowest percentage of people with access to safe water? [orange] Which color represents the highest? [green]
  2. Which region of the world has the lowest percentage of people with access to safe water? [Sub-Saharan Africa] The next lowest? [Asia (South and East) and the Pacific]

2. Find Brazil, China, Morocco, and Nigeria on the map. Compare the color of each country with those of its neighbors. To what extent is each country typical of conditions in its area and region? [Brazil, China, and Nigeria are fairly typical of their regions; Morocco is less typical.] Make a general statement comparing the six regions. [Possible answer: People in Sub-Saharan Africa and in Asia (South and East) and the Pacific tend to have less access to safe water than people in other areas of the world.]

3. What might social and economic conditions be like in the areas with the lowest percentage of access to safe water? [Answers will vary. Possible answers: Many people are probably poor and often sick. It is likely that they also lack adequate sanitation facilities.]

Exploring Access to Safe Water Chart 1


Chart 1. Percentage of the World’s Population With and
Without Access to Safe Water, 1990–96

1. Study Chart 1, which shows world population and access to safe water and answer the following questions.

  1. What percentage of the world’s population in 1990–96 did not have access to safe water? [25%]
  2. The total population of the world in 1998 was approximately 5.9 billion. If the percentage of people with access to safe water stays the same as it was in 1990-96, use your answer to question 1a and calculate how many people were without safe water in 1998? (Divide the percentage by 100 to get a decimal, then multiply the total population of the world by the decimal figure). [approximately 1.48 billion]
  3. How many people did have access to safe water? [5.9 billion – 1.48 billion = 4.42 billion]

2. In the year 2015, the population of the world is projected to reach 7.1 billion.

  1. If the number of people with access to safe water stays the same as it was in 1990–96, what percentage of the world’s population in 2015 will have access to safe water? (Divide 4.42 billion by 7.1 billion and multiply by 100.) [62%]
  2. How does this percentage compare with that shown in Chart 1? [It is smaller.] Based on this information, would the population in 2015 be better off, worse off, or the same? Explain. [They would be worse off, because the percentage of the population with safe water would have decreased from 75% to 62%, and safe water is necessary for life.]

3. Statistics can be powerful tools that help us understand our world. But statistics must be used carefully, and people must understand what the data do and do not tell us.

It is the year 2000. You are running for reelection after two five-year terms as mayor of a city of 800,000 people. In 1990, the population was 600,000, and at that time 37 percent of the population in the city had access to safe water. In the year 2000, 40 percent of the population in the city now have access to safe water.

  1. Did the percentage of population with access to safe water and sanitation increase or decrease during your time as mayor? [It increased.] By how much? [3%, from 37% to 40%]
  2. Calculate the number of people with access to safe water in 1990. [600,000 x .37 = 222,000] Calculate the number of people with access to safe water in 2000. [800,000 x .40 = 320,000] Did the number of people with access to safe water increase or decrease during your time as mayor. [It increased.] By how much? [320,000 – 222,000 = 98,000 people]
  3. Did the number of people without access increase or decrease? (Find the percentage of the population without access by subtracting the percentage of the population with access from 100%, convert the percentage into a decimal, and then follow the calculations you used in question 2b.) [It increased.] By how much? [102,000 people: 800,000 x .60 = 480,000; 600,000 x .63 = 378,000; 480,000 – 378,000 = 102,000 people]
  4. As mayor, what can you say to voters about the progress you have made in the area of safe water and sanitation? [ Possible answer: "Since I took office, 98,000 more people have access to safe water. The share of the population with access to safe water has increased from 37% to 40%."]
  5. What might your challenger say to voters about the lack of progress you have made? [Possible answer: "The current mayor is not doing her job. Today, 102,000 more people lack access to safe water than in 1990. More people are suffering."]
  6. What can happen if statistics are not used carefully? [They may be used to misrepresent or distort the facts.]
  7. What kinds of problems might make it difficult to provide safe water to people in urban areas where populations are growing rapidly? [Possible answers: Too many people may need services too quickly; there may be a lack of money, materials, expertise, and skilled workers to lay pipe or repair leaks; local political leadership may not be able or willing to mobilize resources.]

Exploring Access to Safe Water Chart 2


Chart 2. Life Expectancy and Improvements in Water
Supply and Sanitation in Three French Cities, 1820-1900

1. Read the definition of life expectancy. From your own experience, list at least five factors that can affect life expectancy. [Possible answers: illness, violence, natural disasters, poor nutrition, access to and quality of medical care, smoking, drinking, hazardous work.]

2. Study Chart 2 which suggests a relationship between life expectancy and improvements in water supply and sanitation in three French cities from 1820–1900.

  1. What was the life expectancy in each city in 1820? [Lyons, 32 years; Paris, 32 years; Marseilles, 32 years] What was the life expectancy in each city in 1900? [Lyons, 50 years; Paris, 45 years; Marseilles, 41 years] What was the general trend for all three cities? [Life expectancy increased over time.]
  2. About what year did each city begin its water supply and sanitation improvements? [Lyon, 1844; Paris, 1854; Marseilles, 1892]
  3. What does the chart suggest was the reason life expectancy was higher in Lyons in 1900 than in Paris or Marseilles? [Lyons improved water supply and sanitation earlier.]
  4. According to Chart 2, life expectancy in Marseilles began improving even before water and sanitation did. What are some possible explanations for this? [Possible answers: medical advances, better nutrition, increased awareness of basic hygiene]

3. In the social sciences, researchers usually use current data to explore conditions and issues. Why would water supply, sanitation, and life expectancy information from 19th century France be helpful for people learning about these issues today? [Possible answers: In the 19th century, medicine was not as advanced as it is today, so it is easier to show a cause and effect relationship between improvements in one area and its direct effect on the population. Also, in the past, France and other industrial countries faced water and sanitation problems similar to those some developing countries face today, so perhaps countries today can learn from past successes and failures.]

4. Use the text, Chart 2, and your own knowledge, to argue for or against this statement:

Access to safe water and sanitation are not luxuries that can wait for a stronger economy; rather, they are necessary in order to build a stronger economy.

5. You are a government official in a middle-income country. A crisis exists in your country because an epidemic of cholera has broken out and is spreading rapidly. You are holding an emergency meeting with other officials to decide what to do. As you plan your course of action, consider the following:

  • Cholera is spread by fecal contamination of food and water.
  • Victims become extremely thirsty and need lots of water or they will die from dehydration.
  • Hospitals are overcrowded in your country even when there is no epidemic.
  • Households can boil their drinking water for 10 minutes to make it safe. But most people are not aware of this, and, even if they were, it would cost the average poor family a third of its income to do so.
  • Tourism has disappeared, and other countries will no longer buy fruits and vegetables grown in your country.
  1. What actions would you take immediately? [Answers will vary.]
  2. What policies would you set up for the long run? [Answers will vary.]
  3. How would you pay for these measures? [Answers will vary.]
  4. What world resources might be available to help your country through this disaster? [Answers will vary.]

Exploring Access to Safe Water Charts 3


Chart 3. Sources of Water in Maputo, Mozambique, 1996

1. Which of the sources of water shown in Chart 3 bring water directly to a person’s home or yard? [house connection, yard tap, yard well] What percentage of the people get their water from these sources? [about 41%] Which sources of water require people to leave their homes or yards to get water? [standpost, shallow well, private borehole with electric pump, other yard tap or neighbor’s house] What total percentage of the people get their water from these sources? [59%]

2. Think about the sources of water listed above.

  1. What might be some drawbacks to having to leave your home or yard to get water for your everyday needs? [Possible answers: Water is heavy and you will probably have to make several trips to get all the water you need. You may have to walk long distances and stand in line. There may not be enough water for everyone. The mechanism for getting the water may be broken.]
  2. Bearing these difficulties in mind, who would you expect to use more water, people with sources of water in their home or yard, or people who have to fetch it from some place else? Explain. [People with house connections would probably use more water because their water use is not limited by the amount they can carry or the time it takes to fetch it.]

3. The table below shows the average consumption and cost of safe water for the people of Maputo. Use the information from the table to answer the questions below.

Drinking water
Source

Average consumption
of drinking water
(cubic meters per month)

Average cost
of drinking water
(Mts.* per cubic meter)

House connection

17.6

1,341

Other sources

4

3,751

*Mts. is the abbreviation for Mozambique’s currency, the metical.

  1. Who uses more drinking water, people with house connections or others? [people with house connections] How many times more water do they use than others? [more than four times.]
  2. Who pays less per unit for their water, people with house connections or others? [people with house connections]
  3. Based on your answers to questions 3a and 3b, make a general statement describing the relationships among water cost, convenience, and consumption. [Possible answer: For people with house connections, safe water is both convenient and inexpensive. When water is cheaper and easier to obtain, households tend to consume more.]
  4. If people without house connections are consuming water at a rate below the World Health Organization's recommended daily minimum of 20 liters per person, what changes might you expect to see if they were connected to the piped water system? [Their safe water consumption would probably increase. People would probably become healthier and have higher life expectancy because they would be able to drink more safe water, practice better hygiene, and wash their fruits and vegetables and cook with safe water.]
  5. How do people in your community get their water? [Answers will vary.]

Exploring the Data Tables

1. Make a copy of the blank Comparative Data Table and label the first column Countries, the second column Access to safe water, 1990-96, the third Population growth rate, 1980-98, the fourth Life Expectancy at Birth, 1998, and the fifth GNP per capita, 1998. (Note. The Work On Line version tables are already labeled.) Then use the text and the Basic Data Tables to fill in the chart according to the instructions below.

  1. Choose a low-income country in Sub-Saharan Africa and one in Asia (South and East) and the Pacific, and write their names in the first column.
  2. Choose a middle-income country in Europe and Central Asia, one in Middle East and North Africa, and one in South America, and add them to the first column.
  3. Choose a high-income country in North and Central America and the Caribbean, one in Europe and Central Asia, and one in Asia (South and East) and the Pacific, and add them to the first column.
  4. Label each country in your data table with an L, M, or H to show which income group it belongs to: low, middle, or high.
  5. Read the definitions of access to safe water, population growth rate, life expectancy at birth and GNP per capita. Go to the Basic Data Tables, and for each of your countries, find the percentage of population with access to safe water (1990–96), average annual population growth rate (1980–98), life expectancy at birth (1998), and GNP per capita (1998), and write this information in the appropriate columns of your data table. If data for one of the indicators are not available, select another country from the same income group and region.
  6. Rank the countries, with "1" equaling the highest access to safe water and "8" the lowest. Write the appropriate ranking number in parentheses after the data in column 2.
  7. Study your chart and answer the following questions:
    • In the countries with less than 50 percent access to safe water, are the other indicators high or low? [Answers will vary.]
    • In the countries with 50 to 69 percent access to safe water, are the other indicators higher or lower than in the below 50 percent access countries? [Answers will vary.]
    • In the countries with 70 or more percent access to safe water, are the other indicators higher or lower than in the other countries? [Answers will vary.]
  8. Does access to safe water follow the same trends as the other development indicators in your chart? [Answers will vary.]

2. Make a copy of the blank Comparative Data Table and label the first column Countries, the second column Access to safe water, 1990-96, and the third column Access to sanitation, 1990-96. (Note. The Work On Line version tables are already labeled.) Compare access to safe water and access to sanitation in six countries from six different regions of the world by following these steps:

  1. In the column at the left of the table, write the following countries and their regions: Brazil (South America); Ghana (Sub-Saharan Africa); Philippines (Asia, South and East, and the Pacific); Egypt (Middle East and North Africa); Canada (North and Central America and the Caribbean); Uzbekistan (Europe and Central Asia).
  2. Use the Environmental Data Table to find the percentage of the population with access to safe water for each country and fill in column 2 in your table.
  3. Use the Environmental Data Table to find the percentage of the population with access to sanitation for each country and fill in column 3 in your table.
  4. Compare the access to safe water and access to sanitation data for each country. Within each country, which indicator is higher, access to safe water or to sanitation? [In all of these countries more people have access to safe water than to sanitation.] Are there any countries that have a large difference between the two? [Yes. In Uzbekistan, almost 50 percent more people have access to safe water than to sanitation. In Egypt, more than 50 percent more people have access to safe water than to sanitation.] What are some possible reasons for this? [Possible answer: Sanitation, although crucial for public health, tends to be considered a less immediate need than safe water. Countries must prioritize as they develop the basic systems and structures that allow their economies to function, and when made to chose, they tend to place safe water ahead of sanitation.]

3. Take the Comparative Data Table you prepared for question 2 above, and add a sixth column labeled Access to sanitation, 1990-96.

  1. Use the Environmental Data Table to find the percentage of population with access to sanitation for each of your countries and fill in column 6 in your table. Within each country, which indicator is higher, access to safe water or to sanitation? [Answers will vary.] Compare your results with those in question 2d. Do your countries follow similar trends? If not, what could be some possible reasons for the differences? [Answers will vary.]
  2. Judging from your data, which indicator tends to be more linked to country income group, access to safe water or access to sanitation? [Answers will vary.]
  3. Make a general statement about access to safe water and sanitation and development. [Answers will vary. Possible answers: Safe water and sanitation are both contributors to development and results of development. Safe water and sanitation are so important for children’s health that they can be factors in people’s willingness to have fewer children and thus can help decrease the population growth rate. They are important for economic growth because (at minimum) they help to keep workers healthy and productive. In addition, access to safe water and sanitation tends to increase as countries have more money to spend on piped water and waste collection and treatment systems.]

Exploring Access to Safe Water Photo 1


Water Treatment Plant, Colombia

1. Look at the photograph. Describe what you see. [A woman is holding a beaker of clean water at a water treatment plant.]

2. Would this be a common scene in your country? Why or why not? [ Answers will vary.]

3. In which country was this photograph taken? [Colombia]

4. Find the country in the world and regional map gallery. What region is it in? [South America]

5. Find the country in the Basic Data Table and determine if it is a low-, middle-, or high-income economy. [It is a middle-income economy.]

6. According to the Basic Data Table, what is this country's projected population growth rate for 1998-2015? [1.3%] Its 1998 life expectancy at birth? [70 years] Its 1998 GNP per capita? [$1,910] The percentage of its 1990-1996 population with access to safe water? [96%]

7. What do you think life is like for the average person in this country? Support your answer. [Answers will vary, but should take into account the possible effects of the population growth rate, the GNP per capita, and the percentage of the population with access to safe water on the quality of life.]

8. What, if any, aspects of the activity shown in the photograph might help improve living standards in industrial countries? In developing countries? [Possible answer: In both industrial and developing countries, treating wastewater can reduce environmental pollution and improve the quality of water used for drinking and recreation. Improvements in the water supply can ensure a more healthy population, thus increasing the productivity of the workers and improving the overall quality of life.]

9. Which sector of development (i.e., social, economic or environmental) is best represented by the photograph? [Environmental] Explain your answer. Is it possible for this photograph to represent other sectors as well? In what way? [Answers will vary.]

10. In what ways might the activity in the photograph encourage sustainable development? In what ways might it discourage sustainable development? Explain your answer. [Possible answer: By removing pollutants from water before returning it to the environment, people make sure that their use of water now does not compromise their ability to use it later. Also, treating wastewater ensures that the environment does not become damaged by the pollutants present in the human, industrial and agricultural waste in sewage.]

Exploring Access to Safe Water Photo 2

Children Washing Hands, Guatemala

1. Look at the photograph. Describe what you see. [Children are washing their hands and playing with water at an outdoor spigot.]

2. Would this be a common scene in your country? Why or why not? [Answers will vary.]

3. In which country was this photograph taken? [Guatemala]

4. Find the country in the world and regional map gallery. What region is it in? [North and Central America and the Caribbean]

5. Find the country in the Basic Data Table and determine if it is a low-, middle-, or high-income economy. [It is a middle-income economy.]

6. According to the Basic Data Table, what is this country's projected population growth rate for 1998-2015? [2.5%] Its 1998 life expectancy at birth?[64 years] Its 1998 GNP per capita? [$1,340] The percentage of its 1990-1996 population with access to safe water? [64%]

7. What do you think life is like for the average person in this country? Support your answer. [Answers will vary, but should take into account the possible effects of the population growth rate, the GNP per capita, and the percentage of the population with access to safe water on the quality of life.]

8. What, if any, aspects of the activity shown in the photograph might help improve living standards in industrial countries? In developing countries? [Possible answer: In both industrial and developing countries, frequent handwashing can help prevent disease. People are more likely to wash their hands if they have easy access to safe water and are educated in the benefits of good hygiene.]

9. Which sector of development (i.e., social, economic or environmental) is best represented by the photograph? [Environmental] Explain your answer. Is it possible for this photograph to represent other sectors as well? In what way? [Answers will vary.]

10. In what ways might the activity in the photograph encourage sustainable development? In what ways might it discourage sustainable development? Explain your answer. [Possible answer: Studies have suggested that improved access to safe water and sanitation can cause dramatic improvements in health and life expectancy. When people are healthier, they tend to be more productive and hence are better able to contribute to sustainable development. In addition, when children are healthier, infant mortality decreases and parents tend to be content with having fewer children. The resulting slowing of population growth rates can lessen the stress on social, financial, and natural resources. The activity in the photograph may discourage sustainable development if the children pictured are wasting the water, or if there is no wastewater treatment process in place. In the long run, overusing water resources or neglecting to clean wastewater can seriously compromise the environment's ability to provide enough safe water for the future.]

Exploring Access to Safe Water Case Study 1
1. What are some of the health problems shared by Miguel's village and the one he is visiting? [In both villages, people suffer from diarrhea, scabies, and respiratory infections.]

Which of these problems might be related to the lack of safe water? [All are water related to some degree, but especially diarrhea.]

2. How is it that people die of diarrhea? [They become dehydrated.]

3. In Miguel's village, how did the sources of water become contaminated? [Human and animal waste washed from the ground into the sources of water.] How did this contamination affect Miguel's family? [His daughter died from diarrhea caused by the polluted water.]

4. How do higher well walls and covers help to protect the water? [They keep pollutants from washing into the water.]

5. What training did the villagers receive as part of their water project? [They learned how to dig and build the wells so that the water would not become contaminated; how to install, operate, maintain, and repair hand pumps; how to store water so that it does not become contaminated; how to use safe water for hygiene and food preparation to avoid ingesting bacteria.]

6. Why didn't the people from the water project dig the wells and install the handpumps themselves? [If the project people had done all of the work, the people in the village would not have learned how to do the work themselves and would have had to rely on outside help if the equipment broke down or if they decided they wanted to dig another well. This way the villagers have control over their access to water.]

7. Find Bolivia in the Basic Data Table. What is the 1990-96 percentage of the population with access to safe water? [55%]What is the 1980-98 population growth rate? [2.1%] What is the 1998 life expectancy at birth?[62]What is the 1998 GNP per capita? [$1,010] If more projects like the one in Miguel's village were to increase the percentage of people with access to safe water, what changes might you expect to see in these and other indicators? Explain you answer. [Possible answer: Over time, there might be a drop in the population growth rate, since people would not have to have as many children in the hope that a few would survive. People would probably be healthier and more productive, possibly bringing about an increase in GNP per capita. Infant mortality would probably decrease and life expectancy would probably increase.]

8. Go to the Environmental Data Table and find out how the 1990-96 percentage of the population with access to safe water in Bolivia compares with that of your country. [Answers will vary.] Would a project like the one outlined in the case study work in your community? Explain your answer.

9. Are you aware of any community-run utilities (water, electric, or gas providers) where you live? What might be some advantages of such programs? What might be some disadvantages? [Answers will vary.]

10. How does your community help ensure that the water you drink is safe? [Answers will vary.]

11. What kind of water supply problems, if any, might your community face? [Answers will vary.]

Access to Safe Water Research and Explore

1. You are the prime minister of a low-income country with a population of 22 million. Sixty percent of the population lives in rural areas; most of the rest live in the capital city. Experts say that in 10 years more than half the population will live in the cities.

Your country faces many problems. One of the most serious is that 17 million people lack adequate sanitation and 15 million of these also lack access to safe water. As a result, thousands of people, mostly children, die each year. Listed below are some activities that may help improve access to safe water and sanitation in your country. Because funds are limited, not all plans can be implemented at once.

  1. Choose the five activities that you would undertake first and rank them in the order in which you would implement them. Explain why you chose this ranking.
    • Set up a team of experts to monitor the quality of the drinking water in wells, lakes, and rivers in rural areas throughout the country.
    • Establish a Water Supply Board that will charge households, farmers, and industries the full cost of the water they use and will collect these fees.
    • Expand the system of water pipes in urban areas so that even the poorest people have a faucet within 500 feet of their homes.
    • Set up a team of experts to monitor the quality of the drinking water in urban areas throughout the country.
    • Give tax breaks to those who dig their own wells to supply their own water.
    • Run a media campaign using billboards, posters, radio, television, and newspapers to teach people the importance of hand washing and hygiene, how to make their drinking water safer, and how best to care for people, especially children, if they get sick from unsafe water.
    • Give the poorest people special vouchers that can be used as money to buy safe water or fuel for boiling the water they have.
    • Repair existing water and sewer pipes in urban areas so that clean water is not wasted and dirty water can be safely carried away.
    • Make laws that force factories to stop dumping their untreated waste water into rivers and lakes, and establish a team of inspectors to enforce the laws.
    • Build two large additional sewerage treatment plants for the capital city.
    • Create five mobile health teams that will travel around the country teaching people about the importance of hand washing and better hygiene, how to make their drinking water safer, and how to care for people, especially children, who get sick from dirty water.
  2. Are there any activities listed that you would not use? Explain.
  3. What are three additional activities that you would add to your list? Describe each one and explain how would you fit them into your ranking.

2. How does your family use water and how much do they use?

  1. Make a table with 3 columns. In the first column, list all of the ways water is consumed by your family over the course of a week. In the second column, write how frequently each activity is performed (for example, drinking: 210 glasses/week; laundry: 5 loads/week.) In the third column, figure out the approximate amount of water consumed by this activity each week. If you do not know how much water is used for a given activity, you can use the following list* to make estimates. For activities that are not listed, for example washing a car with a hose, you can approximate consumption by timing how long it takes to wash the car, and multiply that by the amount of water flows through the hose per minute.

    Toilet flush 6-11 litres
    Bath 120 litres
    Shower 14 litres/minute
    Washing machine 150 litres/load
    Dishwashing (auto) 30 litres/load
    Dishwashing (by hand) 10 litres
    Sprinkler 10 litres/minute
    Running garden hose 20 litres/minute
    Running tap water 6-10 litres/minute
    Filling swimming pool 50,000 litres/pool

  2. How much water is wasted by water system leaks in your home? Check for leaking faucets, running toilets, and leaking water tanks. A slow drip from a water tap can waste up to 11,000 litres/month; even more for a steadily running toilet.
  3. Make a list of at least ten ways you can help to conserve water in your household, then choose three of the most promising and try to do them for one month in your home. At the end of the month figure out how much water you have saved.
  4. If your family receives a monthly phone bill, compare the water bill from the month before you started your conservation efforts with the next month’s bill. How much money did you save your family?

3. In order to make responsible decisions about community water supplies, it is important to have a full understanding of where water comes from and how water quality is maintained. Research your own water supply by answering the following questions. Use a variety of sources which may include your family, government offices, library, newspapers, internet, and local utility companies.

  1. Where does your water come from, and how does it get to your home?
  2. Does everyone in your community get their water from the same source? If not, what are the other sources, and how many people use them?
  3. Are some of these sources more expensive than others?
  4. How is water from all of the sources tested for quality, and how frequently? Are some of the sources safer than others?
  5. What are the greatest threats to water quality where you live?
  6. How reliable is your water supply? Research the average rainfall for your area. When are the driest months? Are there times when safe water is in short supply? If yes, what does your community do at these times?
  7. What can you do to help ensure sustainable water use in your community?

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