Water is essential to life. In many parts of the world, especially in the developed world, water is often thought of as an endlessly renewable resource. However, water scarcity already directly affects a third of the world’s population, creating or exacerbating a host of health related problems such as malnutrition, cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery, malaria, and dengue fever, among many others. According to the World Health Organization, water scarcity is getting worse, not better. Despite the worsening condition, water is not managed in a sustainable way in many places.
The issue of water scarcity raises a number of questions: If it is essential to health and survival, should access to water be a human right? Should everyone have equal access to water? Should businesses and individuals have the same access to water? And what is the role of the individual consumer? This lesson will begin to tackle some of these questions.
10 minutes: introduction & vocabulary
Explain to the class that they will be engaging in a learning unit focused on water scarcity that will address the environment, economics, globalization, and responsibility. They will be asked to consider the factors which contribute to water scarcity and to imagine and think through whom should be responsible for improving water management.
If they need it, ask students to complete water vocabulary worksheet and go over the answers as a class.
10 minutes: Watch & listen to (&/or read) the following:
“Indian Farmers, Coca-Cola Vie for Scarce Water Supply”
20 minutes: Discussion
Using the board or an overhead projector, create 6 columns entitled: farmers, environmentalists, 3rd party assessors, Coca-Cola, Indian government, and consumers.
Ask students to describe each group’s point of view and actions in regards to Coca-Cola related water scarcity in India. (You may want to hand out printed copies of the transcript of the news clip for this activity). Although the video does not clearly describe the point of view of each of these groups, ask students to make educated guesses when necessary.
After the chart is filled out, ask students: Who is responsible for ensuring that water is not over used? Who should be responsible for ensuring that water is not over used? Ask students to explain their reasoning.
Hand out & discuss homework assignment – “Why do we buy?: Our Role as Consumers”
Before describing the assignment, ask the class: At the end of the video Atul Singh says, “Are we building sustainable communities? And if we are not, consumers will choose products and services from companies who do behave in that manner.” Ask the students “Do you agree with his reasoning? Why or why not?”
Handout assignment one. This assignment will ask us to investigate how and why we, as individuals, may be complicit in the continued creation of unsustainable products, essentially asking ourselves: “what motivates us to buy something? To what degree do we take sustainability into account when you buy products? Do we know if products are sustainable?”
Discuss answers to homework. Why do we buy? Discuss a number of examples from the class and make a list of the reasons why people purchase products on the board. Ask the students again if they agree with Atul Singh, Coca Cola.
Ask the class: After looking at our motivations for buying, do you agree that consumers drive companies to create sustainable products? Are there some products that are, by nature, unsustainable? Should consumers be educated to be more responsible? Should corporations be counted on to carry out sustainable practices? If yes, who should be responsible for holding corporations accountable? (take into consideration that corporations are spread between many different countries). Should governments be in charge of ensuring sustainable practices?
Distribute discussion questions and watch: “Drought Down Under” As a class go over your answers.
Ask students to share their answers to the discussion questions and discuss the range of answers as a class.
Explain to the students for the next 24 hours they will be responsible for charting their own household’s water usage. Break them down into separate activities (hand washing, dish washing, showering, toilet flushing, lawn watering, etc.) and record the number of times each occurs and the amount of time water was used. If necessary, research the water requirements for each of these activities.
*Alternatively, use the “Water Use Calculator” found on the City of Tampa’s website.
Finally ask students to return to the question of responsibility in the era of globalization, taking what they have watched and talked about into consideration, taking the various players (corporations, consumers, governments) into account, who should be responsible for ensuring water security?
1. Personal Water Conservation
Ask students to brainstorm ways to conserve water. Then, present the class with “100+ Ways to Conserve” from Water Use It Wisely. Have students commit to 5 ways to conserve.
Ask students to journal about the experience of being aware of water usage and changing their water use habits.
- How did you feel when you were forced to think about every drop of water you used?
- How does it feel to conserve water? Was it difficult to break your habits? Was it annoying? Frustrating? Did you feel good about yourself after conserving?
- Why do you think so many people do not follow simple steps to conserve water? How could we encourage people to do so?
Home water use is only a small fraction of the water we use. Almost everything we do requires water. As we saw in the video about Coca-Cola in India, a lot of water is required to make soft drinks, much more water than is used for the actual Coke. This is not only true of beverages, but is also true of all of the food and products we buy, as well as much of the energy we use. As a wrap-up activity, discuss the hidden water requirements in all of our daily activities, not just those that most obviously require water.
Using H20 Conserve’s info pages, discuss the specifics of water use in various products and activities.
2. Water Scarcity and Disease
Visit the World Health Organization’s “10 Facts About Water Scarcity” and listen to the Joanne Silberner’s “Stamping Out Guinea Worm” on NPR. Discuss or ask students to write about their responses to health problems that are related to water scarcity.
Then, watch PBS’s audio slideshow “Design for the other 90”.
Ask students to design their own innovation intended to address one water scarcity related issue.