November 2008

This is a 2-day lesson plan to accompany “Water Wars,” a series by the Common Language Project (CLP) and with support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Day 1 – Water Wars: East Africa

Students audit their own water use and then view the video report, “Water Wars,” to learn how water shortage affects people’s lives in East Africa. Finally, students consider whether water shortage is a local issue or a global one.


Water Use Calculator

Handout: Water Use and Water Scarcity

“Water Wars”
6 minute online video report

“Drought Spurs Resource Wars”
Online article from the Common Language Project

Handout: Drought Spurs Resource Wars


Prior to Day 1, have students to go to the online Water Use Calculator to estimate their average daily water use. Have them record their results. (Suggestion: If your students don’t have internet access, make a simple worksheet that allows them to estimate their usage.)

In Class

Debriefing Homework

  • Ask students to compare and discuss how much water each student uses daily. Introduce students to the concept of “direct” water use. Direct water use is water used “directly” by students, e.g., showering or washing dishes.
  • Were there other daily or frequent uses of water that were not included in the activity?
  • Introduce students to the concept of “indirect” water use. Indirect water use is water used to produce consumer goods, e.g, water used to grow food or in manufacturing. Distribute Water Use and Water Scarcity and have students consider their indirect uses of water.
  • Emphasize to students that nearly everything that they purchase and consume requires the use of water for its production. Thus, to estimate water consumption, it is necessary to include both direct and indirect uses of water.
  • Tell students that more than half of the world’s population lives on about 25 gallons per day, and many on much less than this. Most U.S. citizens use between 70 and 100 gallons per day.

View: “Water Wars” Online video report

As they watch “Water Wars” ask students to consider how this water shortage in East Africa is affecting people’s lives?

“Water Wars” is a 6-minute video report produced by the Comon Language Project and in association with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. It was featured the week of March 21, 2008 on Foreign Exchange. [Additional video, audio, and print reporting is also available.]

Discussion Questions

Homework Assignment

Read “Drought Spurs Resource Wars”

Complete Drought Spurs Resource Wars

Day 2 – Stakeholders

Students will represent the various stakeholders in the issue of water use in southern Ethiopia. Some of these stakeholders were seen in the “Water Wars” video. Others were not, yet they have a stake in the issue.


Background to the Conflict: Ethiopia

Stakeholder Group

In Class

Debrief Homework from DAY 1

  • Who are the stakeholders introduced in the “Water Wars” film and article?
  • What are their concerns? How do their perceptions on the issue differ?
  • What is causing the conflict?
  • Are there other stakeholders not introduced in the article or “Water Wars”?

Exploring Your Stakeholder’s Views

  • Distribute Background to the Conflict: Ethiopia to all students.
  • Form students into 5 groups representing the following stakeholders:
    1. The Borana
    2. The Guji
    3. The Ethiopian Red Cross
    4. United Nations
    5. Ethiopia’s National Government

Distribute the appropriate Stakeholder Group handout to each group. In groups, students will read Background to the Conflict: Ethiopia and the profile of their stakeholder group on the Stakeholder Groups handout. Ask them to assess the situation and then adopt a realistic perspective for their stakeholder group. Students will complete the questions at the end of the Stakeholder Groups handout.

Presenting Stakeholder’s Views: This is a whole class activity in which groups present their stakeholder’s views.

In their presentations, tell students to be sure to answer the following questions:

  • What is this conflict about?
  • What caused it? How did it start?
  • How can it be resolved? Who is responsible for solving the problem? What should be done and by whom?
  • Will outside resources or assistance be needed or can this be resolved locally?
  • What will happen if the problem is not resolved? What social, political and economic changes may occur?

When each group has finished presenting, allow students from the other groups to ask clarifying questions.


  • Is there a solution that would be tolerable for all stakeholders?
  • What obstacles might stand in the way of an acceptable solution?
  • What does this exercise suggest about solving such critical resource scarcity problems?
  • what contributions can each stakeholder make to solve this problem?
  • Is this a local or a global problem? How does looking at it one way or the other influence how it is addressed and resolved?

Alternative Approaches

  1. Heterogeneous groups of stakeholders can be made (jigsaw) and each stakeholder in the group can summarize his/her perspective.
  2. Students, working in groups, write a news article about the conflict from the perspective of their stakeholder group. The article should:
    • Explain the facts of the issue
    • Interpret the facts from their stakeholder’s point of view
    • Explain causes, effects and implications of the situation
    • Identify and recommend actions that would agree with their adopted point of view

Topics for Further Thought

  • What are the effects of a lack of water — a drought, water shortage, or even a reduction in supply — on any society? (Go beyond thirst, hygiene and crop failure. Think about social changes, public health, internal and external conflict, cultural ways of life, and more.)
  • What would happen if our own society started running short of water? Think about what systems would change – jobs, diet, public health, school, government, and more. How would your families cope with water shortages? How would your communities be and look different?
  • What should be done to ease the water crisis? Who can do the most to reduce the stress on world freshwater supplies? How can individuals, communities, nations and international organizations help ease the problem of water shortage?
  • Given that water is distributed unevenly around the world, should water allocation be managed internationally or by local or national governments? What would be the consequences of that?
  • Compare how poor nations deal with such a situation, compared to richer countries. How does a water shortage affect these countries differently? How might different populations within those countries be affected? What capabilities do rich countries have to respond as opposed to poor countries?
  • On a personal level, what habits would you change if you were limited to 30 gallons a day? How about 10 gallons?

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