Water Activities: A Global Water Lesson

About that 20-minute shower...
Water is a precious natural resource. Because in many parts of the Western world water seems so abundant, we might easily take it for granted. This activity is designed to help participants visualize the worldΓÇÖs distribution of water and see how important our conservation efforts are. About that 20-minute shower...
Water is a precious natural resource. Because in many parts of the Western world water seems so abundant, we might easily take it for granted. This activity is designed to help participants visualize the world’s distribution of water and see how important our conservation efforts are.


  • Bible
  • Newsprint and markers
  • 2 clear five-gallon containers filled with water
  • 2 small clear pitchers
  • 1 measuring cup
  • 1 teacup
  • 1 eyedropper
  • Newsprint/markers for sharing feedback
  • Copies of Water Use Survey (see below)

The Lesson
LEADER: (Place water and measuring materials on a table where the whole group can see. Read Matthew 25:37.) Jesus tells his followers that when they give “the least of these” a drink of water or something to eat, they give Jesus something to drink or eat. That sets the stage for a little scientific research I’d like to conduct with you today. How much water do we use? How much water do we need? How can we help to make sure everyone gets enough water? And what difference might our water consumption make to Jesus?

(Administer the Water Use Survey. You may choose to copy the survey to follow, or ask participants to list the ways they use water first, then go back and tell them the average amounts used in this country per activity. The point is not absolute precision, but to give participants a better understanding of how much water rushes in and out of the average North American home in a single day — and how that might compare to the use of water by people in other places on the planet.)

Consider how much water you use in a day, based on the following chart. Keep in mind your use may vary slightly from the chart. For example, if your shower is longer than 6 minutes, you will need to figure your own use in that case, based on a 3.8 gallon/minute flow of water. If you live with other people in your household, you may need to figure your “share” of the water use for laundry, etc.


Water Use Survey
Drink/cook daily 2 gal/person  
Flush toilet 20 gal (4 gal@5/day)  
Bath 30 gal/bath  
Shower 20 gal (3.8 gal./min.)  
Wash machine use 45 gal/load  
Dishwasher use 15 gal/load  
Hand-wash dishes 10-15 gal for 1 meal  
Water lawn 125 gal/hour  
Swim in pool 250 gallons/fill/refill  

LEADER: (Ask participants to share results of their water use surveys. Add the totals on the newsprint and figure the total use by the class.) Now that we have an idea of how much water we use, let’s look at how our use compares with the use of people in the rest of the world. (Read “Some Water Facts.”)

Some Water Facts
• One person in North America uses an average of 487,150 gallons of fresh water each year, the highest average on the planet. By comparison, Africans use about 64,722 gallons.
• According to the United Nations and World Health Organization, one of every five people lacks access to safe drinking water – and half of the world’s population lacks adequate water-purification systems.
• Lack of water is not just about dry crops or thirst. Consumption of and exposure to unsafe water kills more than 25,000 people every day and accounts for about 80 percent of the illness in the developing world.

How Much Water?
(Note to the leader: While 70 percent of Earth’s surface is covered by water, 97.5 percent of the world’s water is salt water and 2.5 percent fresh water. Most of this fresh water is trapped in polar ice caps, with much of the rest found as soil moisture or kept in underground aquifers. According to the World Health Organization, less than 1 percent of the world’s freshwater, or 0.007 percent of all the water on Earth, is readily available for human consumption. This lesson breaks that down in a more visual way.)

Water jug lesson below adapted from A Day in the Life, published by the United Church of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Presbyterian Church (USA) and Heifer International/For congregational use.

LEADER: OK, so we have established that we probably use more water than we need. We also know that the Bible considers water sacred for many reasons. But we also know water makes up about two-thirds of the planet, right? Shouldn’t there be plenty? Let’s look.

These two five-gallon containers represent all the water in the world: two-thirds of our little blue orb in space. However, 97.5 percent of all water on Earth is in oceans and seas. Water in these bodies contains solids — mostly salts. It’s OK for transportation and recreation uses, but not for drinking, washing, irrigating crops or other industrial purposes. If these two jugs represent all of the water available on the planet, then about 4.5 cups represents the fresh water. (Place the 4.5 cups of water in the pitcher.) So, here’s our planet’s fresh water supply. (Hold up the pitcher.)

Of this amount, the equivalent of 3.5 cups is trapped in glaciers, ice caps, soil or the atmosphere. In other words, it’s out of reach for our use. That leaves us with the equivalent of one cup of water that is fresh and available for use. (Pour one cup of water into the second pitcher, and hold up the second pitcher.) This is the fresh water available to us.

But of this, some is in isolated areas with limited access; some is trapped so deep underground that it is beyond even well-digging depth; some is too polluted to drink. That leaves the equivalent of about 10 drops of water that is fresh and available for use and readily accessible to human beings. (Put 10 drops of water in the teacup.)

Now remember, of this scant amount of fresh, available, accessible water, North Americans use a disproportionate share. We use 487,150 gallons a year of the 1.34 million gallons used by the world’s people annually. That’s about 36 percent. So of those 10 drops, we get the first three and a half, even though we represent only about 6 percent of Earth’s population. (Drip three drops on the floor, slowly.) The other 94 percent of the world’s population shares the equivalent of the remaining seven drops.

OK. It’s clear that many of us in North America are not the ones who go thirsty in the world. Add to that this reality: consumption trends have increased faster than Earth’s population. Our atmosphere is a closed system. No new water comes in and none leaves. We have the same amount God gave us from the beginning. But there are more of us to use it, and we pollute more than we once did, rendering more and more of it useless to us.

In fact, the United Nations estimates that in less than 25 years, if current water consumption trends continue, 5 billion people will live in areas where it will be impossible or difficult to meet basic water needs for sanitation, cooking and drinking. That is, 5 billion people will not have easy access to even the 13 gallons a day they need to survive. To put that in perspective: sometime just before the turn of the Century, Earth’s population hit 6 billion people.

A Challenge
LEADER: Pay attention to how much water you use. For the next week, see what it’s like to use 13 gallons less each day. (Invite their ideas for water use reduction, adding the list that follows as needed. Write ideas on the newsprint.) Take shorter showers. Don’t use the toilet to flush away things like the tissue you used to blow your nose. Store a bottle of water in the refrigerator instead of letting the tap run to get the water cold for drinking. Wash the car with soapy water in a bucket, rather than at the car wash. Wear clothes more than once. The more aware you are, the more ideas you’ll find to save water.

During the coming weeks, consider increasing that savings of water. Think of each 13 gallons you save as the “drink” you offer to one thirsty person on our planet in the name of Jesus.

Week of Compassion 2006

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