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Below: Discussion guides for kidsElementary and high school

The Globe and Mail and We Charity have partnered to promote media literacy and education around global issues. This is part of a series of discussion guides and videos for parents and their children to read, watch and discuss together. Find more learning guides on the Globe-WE Learning Hub.

In the past century, global demand for water has grown more than twice as fast as the population – and it's expected to increase by another 55 per cent by the year 2020, driven by manufacturing, thermal power generation and household use. Already, 1.2 billion people can't access enough water to meet their needs.

Agriculture accounts for 70 per cent of the world's fresh water use – which means a lack of water also leads to worsening food insecurity, which is defined as insufficient access to affordable, nutritious food. How prevalent is food insecurity? According to the United Nations, one in nine people worldwide suffer from chronic undernourishment.

While these stats may not surprise you, other facts about food and water insecurity might.

What a waste

Okanagan Lake, Peace River, Georgian Bay, Niagara Falls, the Miramichi – Canada is known for its abundant, vast and beautiful bodies of water. However, we're also ranked among the biggest water-wasters in the world. Here's a look at our water use by the numbers:

20 per cent: One-fifth of the world's freshwater flows within our borders, but less than half of it is renewable, meaning the rest is retained in lakes, underground aquifers and glaciers.

85 per cent: That's the proportion of our population that doesn't have access to most of our renewable water sources; they live along the border we share with the United States, while water flows north to the Arctic Ocean and Hudson's Bay.

Fourth: In terms of water usage among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, Canada places fourth, behind Estonia, Finland and New Zealand. To put this in perspective, we use nearly 10 times more water each year than people in Denmark. As Environment Canada says, our country "remains one of the largest per capita users of fresh water in the world."

68 per cent: Electrical power generation accounts for nearly 70 per cent of Canada's water use. The rest is for manufacturing (10 per cent), households (9 per cent), agriculture (5 per cent) and mining, oil and gas (3 per cent).

251 litres: This was the average amount of water each Canadian used every day in 2013. And our total household water use was equivalent to 1.2 million Olympic swimming pools. Still, that's an improvement: In 1991, we each used 342 litres of water daily. Thanks in large part to more efficient household appliances, our usage has dropped 27 per cent in the past 16 years.

65 per cent: Nearly two-thirds of household water use happens in the bathroom. The rest is taken up by laundry (20 per cent); kitchen use and drinking (10 per cent); and cleaning (5 per cent).

Five facts about food insecurity

1. There's more than enough to go around

According to the United Nations, the world produces enough food to feed each person 2,800 calories every day – more than most adults require to remain healthy. Yet, one in nine people are chronically malnourished. Why? As much as half of the global food supply is wasted, fed to animals or used as fuel.

Further reading:

2. Canada is a culprit too

Every year, seven billion kilograms of food is lost in Canada and more than half of the waste happens in households. The rest is lost in processing and manufacturing (18 per cent), retail stores (11 per cent), farming (9 per cent), restaurants (8 per cent) and transportation (3 per cent).

Further reading:

3. Affordability is a factor

In 2012, four million Canadians (including 1.15 million children) experienced "food insecurity" because of financial constraints. This translates to one in eight households worrying about having enough food, buying less or poorer quality food or reducing meal intake due to financial constraints. More than 62 per cent of those homes are headed by working adults.

4. Northern and Maritime communities are hit hardest

In Canada, food insecurity is most prevalent in the North and the Maritimes. In Nunavut, for example, more than 60 per cent of children live in households that are food insecure. In the North, high transportation costs and price gouging contribute to exorbitant food costs. A box of frozen chicken strips, for example, can carry a $30 price tag.

Further reading:

5. Reliance on food banks has skyrocketed

In Canada's three territories, food bank use increased by 247 per cent between 2008 and 2014. The federal government launched "Nutrition North Canada" in 2011 to subsidize the costs of transporting perishable food to remote Northern communities. However, critics suggest the new program resulted in higher grocery bills because it doesn't cover dry goods or hygiene products.

Further reading:


  • While 3 per cent of the world’s water is fresh water, less than one per cent of the Earth’s water is available for drinking, sanitation and freshwater species. (National Geographic)
  • 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to water and 2.7 billion people find water scarce for at least one month a year. (World Wildlife Fund)
  • The greatest causes of stress on the world’s water systems are pollution, agriculture (which uses 70 per cent of the world’s accessible freshwater) and population growth. (World Wildlife Fund)
  • As climate change continues unabated, patterns of weather and water will change around the world with droughts becoming more common and severe in some places and floods in others.
  • The overall impact will be added stress on the world’s water systems, with less available for farming, cities, energy generation and ecosystems. (World Wildlife Fund)
  • Canada has 20 per cent of the planet’s fresh water – but only seven per cent of the planet’s renewable water; meaning, the rest is retained in lakes, underground aquifers and glaciers. (Government of Canada)
  • The majority of freshwater in Canada drains northward towards the Arctic Ocean and Hudson Bay, while 85 per cent of Canadians live along the southern border; the water supply in the country, while abundant, is still overtaxed. (Government of Canada)
  • Canadians use an average of 329 litres of water a day, second only to the United States and twice as much as the European average (National Post)
  • Thousands of Indigenous people in over 50 communities are under “water advisories,” meaning they do not have access to clean drinking water. (Human Rights Watch)
  • Many of these advisories have been in places for years, if not decades, despite the availability of technological and infrastructure solutions. (CBC)
  • Plastic doesn’t biodegrade (meaning it doesn’t break down as naturally as an apple in compost does). It simply breaks into smaller and smaller parts. The majority of it ends up in landfills or the ocean, where there’s an estimated 100 million tons of plastic debris threatening the health and safety of marine life. (Columbia University)
  • Global plastic consumption rates have gone from 5.5 million tons in the 1950s to 110 million tons in 2010. (Columbia University)


World Water Day: An annual event celebrated on March 22. The day focuses attention on the importance of water conversation and sustainable management.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch: A collection of marine debris and garbage in the North Pacific Ocean (also known as the Pacific trash vortex). The Great Pacific Garbage Patch spans waters from the west coast of North America to Japan and is twice the size of Texas. The debris in the patch accumulates because the vast majority is not biodegradable.

Water conservation: Refers to all policies, strategies and tactics to sustainably manage water, to protect it as a natural resource, protect the environment and meet current and future human demands.


1. Why is water considered a life source?

2. What is the connection between poverty, economic health, physical health, water quality and accessibility?

3. Who is responsible for protecting water?

4. What is the "hidden price tag" of water?

5. How can you change your lifestyle to reduce your own consumption of water?


Every item we consume (eat, drink, wear, use) requires water to be manufactured. As a family, list six items you consume on a regular basis. What is the hidden water price tag on these items? Using the Internet, research the total hidden water price tag. For example:

  • Beef: 14,000 litres
  • Chicken: 4,000 litres
  • 500 sheets of paper: 5,000 litres
  • T-shirt: 713 litres

How many times a day are these items consumed at your house? Find the total amount of water consumed in litres for the week.


Using this world map, ask students to rate the continents of the world based on the students' assumption of water quality and accessibility (1 = low and 5 = high). Which countries do you think are most affected by the water crisis? What would you rate Canada's water quality? Why?


  • Did you know about the water crisis in Canada?
  • Were you surprised?
  • What can you do to raise awareness about the national water crisis?
  • Why is it important to ensure that all people have access to safe and accessible water?
  • Whose responsibility is it to protect and maintain the quality of water sources locally, nationally and globally?
  • Is water a human right or is it a product that should be owned and sold for profit?