Global water scenarios

Global water scenarios

Murphey, Carol E

The water scenarios included in this lesson can be done as individual stories read by the teacher to the class, or by older students reading independently while divided into groups. The country being read about should be found on a world map or globe. In each case an in-depth dialog should ensue between students, based on the suggested questions. The students then do the at home task and return the next day to report the information they collected.

Note: These summaries are based on the following text: Swanson, Peter, (2001) Water, the drop of life, Companion to the public television series, North Word Press, Minnetonka, Minnesota, ISBN 1-55971-782-3


A Drop at a Time

In the country of Chile, in South America, is the driest desert in the world. It is said that in some parts of that desert, there has been no recorded rainfall in over 400 years. The desert extends right to the shore of the Pacific Ocean. There, some people in the town of Chungungo, who catch fish for a living, exist in a village without water. Fresh water was being brought to them each week, in a dirty tanker truck, and the people were getting sick from the water. It was also very expensive to have their water brought 30 miles to them.

The people noticed that when the ocean fog rolled in and rested on the few plants against the mountain behind them, drops of water formed on the plants. Have you ever noticed this on a foggy day? A company from Canada helped the people plan how to capture this fog water. Huge plastic mesh nets were put up, called fog collectors. They catch the fog and the resulting drops of water. The drops run down the nets into a gutter and then into a tank. The people now have a faucet in their home and have clean, fresh water. They are healthy. The village also now has a garden of 10 acres, to grow fresh vegetables, all because of a drop at a time.

The Greatest Thirst

Kalahari Bushmen live in South Africa, in the Kalahari Desert. In the wet session, their desert may get as little as 4 inches of rain. In the hot summer all this water disappears and none can be found. The Bushmen have to search hard for water and often there is none at all. They follow herds of gemsboks, a large kind of antelope, not to kill and eat them, but to discover the sweet tsama melon. Gemsboks are very good at finding them and the Bushmen and the gemsboks share the moisture in them. This is all either of them get to drink when there isn’t any water. The world “Kalahari” for which the desert is named, means “the great thirst” in the language of the Bushmen. Can you tell why?

Water, Water, Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

The Cofan people who live in the rainforest of Ecuador, on a river called the Dureno, have water everywhere. The river then flows into the giant Amazon River. Water falls from the sky in great quantities. It is everywhere, because this is a rainforest. These people who call themselves “Guardians of the Rainforest,” and to whom water is life, have a big problem. They have nothing to drink, or to cook with, or to bath in, or to wash clothes with, or to water plants. How can this be? They have always lived in harmony with nature within the forest, which is a national preserve.

Suddenly in 1971 their peaceful existence was destroyed. A United States oil company and the Ecuadorian State Oil Company decided to drill for oil in their rainforest. The oil companies started dumping their waste into the river. Accidental oil spills began to pollute the river and kill all the fish. Toxic gas from the oil made the falling rain turn to burning acid, which ate the leaves right off the trees and killed them. The river became so filthy the “Guardians of the Forest,” could no longer drink the water, or cook with it, or bath in it, or wash clothes with it, or water plants. People began to get sick and break out with skin diseases. Finally in the midst of all water, they had to dig very deep wells in order to survive. There was water everywhere and not a drop to drink. Do you know of any polluted waters where you live?


In California’s Central Valley, many people live in big and small farms. To grow crops in this valley in the summertime, people must irrigate to grow things and water their animals. In some places, where people do not live near rivers and streams and irrigation canals, they pump water from wells that take water from under the ground. Each piece of land must pump water only from their well, but they are all getting water from the same underground river. This summer in a place where there were four little farms one big one a problem arose. The little farms would pump water for about six to eight hours and take about 200 to 250 gallons per minute out of the ground, for their animals, their household, and their crop. The big farmer had a more powerful pump and decided to pump 12,000 gallons per minute, 24 hours a day, for six weeks. This caused the water to be all sucked over to his well. He took so much water, that during those six weeks, everyone else’s well went dry. These families had to drink bottled water and have water for their animals come by tanker truck and they couldn’t water their fields. The water table (the river under the ground) became 55 feet lower. The little farmers then had to pay to have their wells dug deeper so they could get to the remaining water. Do you think the big farmer should have shared? Was it fair?


* What water problems do people have where you live that are like the ones in the stories?

* Since having clean water depends on where you live, what ideas do you have for sharing water?

* What would you have to change in your life if you had polluted water or a very small supply of water?

* Why do you think people waste water?

* Who should have the most rights to clean water? Why?


Each student should be given an eight-ounce plastic cup. Each student should fill out or have a parent help them fill out the information below. Be sure they understand that the cup is to measure the water they use between the end of school and bedtime. The information should be returned to school the next morning and the class should discuss the results and perhaps graph the results. How does this compare to the water use of the people in the four stories?


* Measure with your cup, how many eight-ounce glasses of water you drink between the end of school and bedtime.

* Measure with your cup, the amount of water that was used to cook dinner.

* How many times did you flush the toilet? Does your toilet use 10 gallons (old ones) five gallons? (some toilets) 1.6 gallons? (newest ones) Circle one.

* Did you take a shower? (approximately 30 gallons) Did you take a bath? (approximately 60 gallons) Circle one. * How much water did you use to brush your teeth?

* List any other water you used.


All students should complete the home task and be able to talk or write knowledgeably about some world water problems and their personal consumption. Thoughtful discussion and a water sharing solution might generate extra credit.


Adult Publications:

Swenson, Peter, (2001). Water, the drop of life, Companion to the Public Television Series, North Word Press, Minnetonka, Minnesota, ISBN:

Children’s Publications:

Cherry, Lynne, (1992). A River Ran Wild, Hardcourt, Jovanovich, Publishers, New York, ISBN: 0-15200542-0

Lewin, Ted, (1995). Sacared River, Clarion Books, NEw York, ISBN: 0-395-69846-4

rte, s, (1997). Water/aWce, HstcOura BMW& COMMY, New York,ISBN: 0-15-201284-2 Stork,c:arii, (1993). one arie you go* ManyoY/? Ir Book, Now York, ISBN: 6U-10352-9 TR

Sulliv, Jem. (1991). ms’s Ads of irvnmaa4 Rand *.ana Ns oly, Chicago,lSON:. 0-06-021639-5

Web Sites:


Carol Murphey taught grades k-6 in the classroom for sixteen years and was an elementary reading teacher for seventeen years. Currently she is retired from the public schools and writes curriculum, gives workshops and consults in the areas of language arts, literature, fine arts and the social studies.

Copyright California Council for the Social Studies Fall 2001

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