Global Education

Teacher resources to encourage a global
perspective across the curriculum

Access to safe water and sanitation

Year level: 5-6

Students deepen their understanding of the need and right of all people in the world to have access to safe water and adequate sanitation for health and wellbeing. They investigate projects and initiatives to improve access to water and sanitation for communities in need and explore the importance of community involvement in helping to achieve lasting change.

In Lombok, Indonesia, a woman pours clean water from the central source into her covered storage container.

In Lombok, Indonesia, a woman pours clean water from the central source into her covered storage container. Photo by Josh Estey for AusAID

Interdependence and globalisation, Social justice and human rights

Australian Curriculum links

Learning areas


Year 5

Identify aspects of literary texts that convey details or information about particular social, cultural and historical contexts (ACELT1608)

Plan, rehearse and deliver presentations for defined audiences and purposes incorporating accurate and sequenced content and multimodal elements (ACELY1700)

Year 6

Make connections between students’ own experiences and those of characters and events represented in texts drawn from different historical, social and cultural contexts (ACELT1613)

Participate in and contribute to discussions, clarifying and interrogating ideas, developing and supporting arguments, sharing and evaluating information, experiences and opinions (ACELY1709)


Year 5

Choose appropriate units of measurement for length, area, volume, capacity and mass (ACMMG108)

Year 6

Connect volume and capacity and their units of measurement (ACMMG138)


Year 5

Scientific understandings, discoveries and inventions are used to solve problems that directly affect peoples’ lives (ACSHE083)

Year 6

Science involves testing predictions by gathering data and using evidence to develop explanations of events and phenomena (ACSHE098) 

General capabilities

  • Literacy
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Personal and social capability
  • Ethical behavior
  • Intercultural understanding

Cross-curriculum priorities

  • Sustainability

Activity 1: Spotlight on staying healthy

Students clarify their understanding of why access to safe water and adequate sanitation is vital for health and wellbeing, and a right of all people in the world.

Brainstorm and list actions, products/services and knowledge you need for good health and hygiene. Work in groups.

Compare lists and discuss. Did everyone include safe water for drinking? Why or why not? Did everyone include the basic ingredients for adequate sanitation, ie a hygienic toilet and handwashing? Why are these important?

Imagine and discuss: What if you did not have safe and convenient access to water and sanitation? Work in pairs or groups to consider all the ways your health and life might be affected. (Some groups could focus on water and others on sanitation.)

Create a web map to present your ideas.

Predict before reading some facts about access to water and sanitation globally:

  • What proportion of the world’s population do you think might not have access to adequate water and sanitation?
  • Why might people lack this access?
  • What impact might this have on their lives?

Read the introduction Water and sanitation.

Compare the information with your earlier discussion and predictions.

Discuss the following questions:

  • How do you feel when you read the statistics and other background information?
  • Which facts did you already know and which ones are new to you?
  • In which parts of the world do you think these issues are most common?

Write two ideas you have about improving people’s access to water and sanitation.


Access to water and sanitation is part of Millennium Development Goal number 7. Find out more about this and the other Millennium Development Goals at cyberschoolbus and by exploring the interactive MDG Monitor map.

Activity 2: Water collection and use

Students investigate factors that limit access to safe water for some people in the world and explore the effect on people’s lives.

List daily activities that use water. Include water use for drinking and food preparation, for sanitation/hygiene and for other domestic purposes such as washing clothes and dishes, and watering your garden.

Estimate and/or measure the amount of water used in each activity. Discuss which activities rely on water that is a suitable quality for drinking.

Calculate the total daily usage.

Research and discuss:

  • Where does your water come from?
  • What problems would you and your community face if access to safe and sufficient water was difficult or limited?
  • Why can water be considered a human right? (Consider Article 25 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which begins, ‘Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and of his family . . .’ How is water an essential part of health and wellbeing?)

Examine the photographs and captions relating to water storage, access and collection. Pay particular attention to the way water is being collected and transported and who is doing the work. 

View the World Vision video A heavy burden to carry: girls, water and schooling.


  • What are these people doing?
  • Why do you think they need to do this work?
  • How do you think access to water would affect the amount of water people in these areas use each day?
  • What effect would this have on their health?
  • What do you notice about the people performing the work of collecting and transporting water?
  • What impact might this task have on women and children’s lives (eg, social interaction, educational opportunity, ability to obtain sufficient food)?

Create a picture, cartoon or other presentation contrasting the different levels of access to water and the resulting lifestyle between yourself and a young person in one of the places in the photographs and video.

Make a suggestion for overcoming the differences in access between countries.

Activity 3: Giving water a lift

Students learn about a project to improve access to water in Niger. They investigate the use of pulleys to reduce the effort required to haul water from a well and design a simple pulley system to assist in lifting water.


For Activity A

For Activity B (for each group)

  • two single pulleys
  • two double pulleys
  • two metres of cord such as that used for venetian blinds
  • 200 gram mass (load) with hook or a loop of string
  • 5.0 Newton spring balance
  • ruler
  • retort stand and clamp (or something similar) to hang pulleys from.

Read the case study Wells and pumps in Niger.

Examine photos 1, 2, 4 and 5.

Discuss how difficult it would be to haul water out of the well as shown in photos 1 and 2. What is a pulley? How do the pulleys shown in photos 4 and 5 make the job of collecting water easier?

Activity A: Add more pulleys (interactive)

L1200 Pulleys: add more pulleys Use the digital resource L1200 Pulleys: add more pulleys in the National Digital Learning Resources Network.

Record the information in the table.

Number of pulleysCrate mass (kg)Force applied by workers (N)Distance rope is pulled (m)Work done (force x distance: N x m)

Write the three correct statements from the list below:

  • It takes more force to lift things with two pulleys than one.
  • It's easier to lift things with two pulleys than one.
  • The more pulleys you use the less force you need to apply.
  • With three pulleys, you need to pull more rope than with two pulleys.
  • With three pulleys, you need to pull less rope than with two pulleys.
  • The more pulleys that are used, the more force the workers have to apply.
  • The amount of rope used is always the same.


  • How did the number of pulleys affect the amount of force required to lift a load?
  • How did the number of pulleys affect the distance the rope needed to be pulled?
  • How many pulleys would help the people shown in ‘Collecting water, wells and pumps in Niger’ haul a 10-kilogram bucket of water from a well?
  • What effect does increasing the number of pulleys have?

Activity B: Working with pulleys


Working with pulleys Note: When threading a pulley, maintain the cord’s tension by letting the mass dangle at its end. If the tension is released, the cord can come off the pulley wheel.

  • Make the initial set-up, as shown in the first diagram (with no pulley). Record the force applied by reading the spring balance.
  • Make the other pulley arrangements, as shown in the diagrams. Record the force applied to lift the mass 20 cm.
  • Devise some other set-ups using single and double pulleys. Measure the effort needed to raise the 200 g mass (your load) 20 cm. Remember to keep the mass, the length of string and the height the mass is being lifted the same for each set-up. Why do you think this is important?

Complete a table of results.

Pulley arrangementForce applied to lift load 20cm (N)
No pulley 
Single pulley 
Two single pulleys 
Two double pulleys 
Two single pulleys with an extra loop of cord 

Discuss which set-up requires the least effort.

Draw a detailed diagram of how you would install a pulley system (that can be operated by one person) over the wells shown in the case study Wells and pumps in Niger.

Create a report which includes:

  • your table of results from your own pulley activity
  • your conclusion regarding the number of pulleys compared to the effort involved in lifting the 200 gram mass
  • your design for a pulley system for hauling water from the well. Show how your pulley system would be raised/attached to the well. Clearly show the number of pulleys you are suggesting (remember there is limited space above the well) and the rope arrangement through the pulleys. 

Activity 4: Cleaning muddy water

Students make a simple sand and gravel filter to clean muddy water and make it suitable for washing (not drinking).

Preparation (for each group)

  • one cup of muddy water
  • flowerpot
  • metal stand for flowerpot, to allow drainage
  • clean glass jar
  • two cups of sand
  • two cups of gravel
  • absorbent paper (such as paper towel or blotting paper).

Read the case study Mekong Delta water and sanitation.

Use information from the case study, and any other examples you may know about, to discuss water sources that people might depend on if there is no convenient access to water where they live.

  • Would the water always be clean enough to use (eg to drink, to cook with, to wash with, to water plants, to give to animals)?
  • Why or why not? What could happen if water was used for a purpose for which it was not clean enough?
  • Why might it be helpful to have methods of making water cleaner?

Cleaning muddy water Follow the steps below to construct a water filter for cleaning muddy water to make it suitable for washing.


  1. Line the flowerpot with absorbent paper so that it comes up the sides of the pot.
  2. Pour in the gravel.
  3. Pour in the sand.
  4. Place the flowerpot in the metal stand.
  5. Place the jar under the drainage hole of the flowerpot.
  6. Stir your cup of muddy water and slowly pour this into the middle of the flowerpot.
  7. Observe the water that drains from the flowerpot into the jar.

Questions to answer

  • What colour was the muddy water?
  • What colour was the filtered water?
  • How well did your filter work? What did it remove from the muddy water?
  • Were other students’ filters as good as yours? Why or why not?
  • How could you use this filtered water?

Draw your water filter and explain how it works. Describe how it could assist people who do not have access to clean water.

Activity 5: Water safe to drink

Students compare two methods of making water safe to drink: using alum and boiling; and boiling and distilling.


For Activity A

  • one cup of muddy water
  • two clean glass jars
  • ½ teaspoon of alum (aluminium sulphate, available from some hardware stores and chemists)
  • stirrer or spoon
  • saucepan
  • stove or electric hotplate
  • clean piece of plastic wrap
  • black marker pen.

For Activity B

  • one cup of muddy water
  • small, clean saucepan and lid
  • stirrer or spoon
  • stove, or electric hotplate
  • clean glass jar
  • wet cloth or kitchen sponge
  • clean piece of plastic wrap
  • black marker pen.

Read or revisit the case study Mekong Delta water and sanitation.

Use information from the case study, together with other knowledge you have, to discuss issues associated with unsafe water sources. For example, what could happen if water was used for a purpose for which it was not clean enough? Why might it be helpful to have methods of making water cleaner? Why is water purification critical for water that people will drink?

Complete the experiment below to experience and assess two methods of making water safe to drink.

Activity A: Alum and boiling


  1. Stir the cup of muddy water and pour it into one of the glass jars.
  2. Add ½ teaspoon of alum and stir. What happens?
  3. Leave the mixture of alum and muddy water for a few minutes. What has happened?
  4. Carefully pour the ‘clean’ water from the top of the mixture into the saucepan. Bring it to a boil and let it boil for three minutes. Turn off the heat and let the water cool.
  5. Pour ¼ cup of the boiled water into the second clean jar and cover it with plastic wrap.
  6. Label the jar with your name and ‘Activity A’.

Activity B: Boiling and distilling

Distillation requires boiling water, collecting the steam (or water vapour) and turning the steam back into liquid water again.

Boiling and distilling


  1. Stir the cup of muddy water and pour it into the saucepan.
  2. Place the lid on the saucepan so that it is on an angle and overhangs the pan.
  3. Place the jar so that it can collect the runoff water. Also place the wet cloth on top of the saucepan lid. (See diagram).
  4. Bring the muddy water to a boil. Take care not to touch the saucepan or the lid while it is boiling.
  5. Once ¼ cup of water has collected in the jar, turn off the heat. Cover the jar with plastic wrap and label it with your name and ‘Activity B’.

Comparing the results: Observe the water in the jars. Fill in the first row of the results table. Then leave the jars of water on a windowsill for a week. Observe the water again and fill in the second row.

Making water safe to drink results
  Activity A: Alum and boilingActivity B: Boiling and distilling
When the water was put into the jarsWhat does the water in the jars look like?  
One week laterWhat does the water in the jars look like now?  

Questions to answer

  • Which activity required the use of a chemical?
  • Which activity used the most energy (heat)?
  • If you were living in a place with no electricity but plenty of wood, which method would you use to purify your drinking water?
  • If no cheap fuel or wood was available (and presuming you could obtain alum), which method would you use to purify your water?
  • Consider your results at the end of a week. Which method do you think is better to purify water? Why do you think so? (The distillation process removes almost all impurities from water.)

Create a PMI chart comparing the two methods of purifying water.

Write a report comparing the two methods (alum and boiling, and boiling and distilling) that can be used to purify water, assessing the pluses and minuses of both methods.

Make a statement or create a web map about the benefits of access to water purification techniques for people with limited access to safe water.


Conduct an internet search to find a solar distillation method. Discuss the pluses and minuses of using a solar distillation unit. 

Activity 6: Community-led total sanitation

Students investigate advantages and disadvantages of different types of latrines/toilets, and the impact of communities building their own sanitation facilities.

Discuss: What different types of toilets or latrines do you know about?

Read about access to sanitation in the introduction to the case study Community-led total sanitation.

Construct, in small groups, a model or labelled drawing of one of the types of latrines/toilets described.

Create a PMI chart for the latrine of your model.

Share your PMI with the rest of the class.

Make a statement about the concept of a ladder of sanitation.

Describe how improvements to sanitation improve health and the environment.

Imagine a village community with no toilets or latrines, where traditionally people have gone to the toilet in open areas such as fields or on riverbanks. Create a word or visual picture of what this might be like. Think about a range of factors including personal convenience and potential health and environmental dangers.

Discuss what might motivate and help to bring about changes in toileting habits.

Read the case study  Community-led sanitation in Bangladesh.

Make a flow diagram of the process of communities providing their own latrines. 


  • Why might talking about excreta be a ‘social taboo’?
  • Why do you think it would be important for the facilitators to ‘break down’ such social taboos with the villagers?
  • What other factors influence the success of the program (eg education about handwashing)?
  • What were the motivating factors for villagers?
  • Why might these be different for different groups – for example, women, children, other villagers?
  • What are the benefits of this program?

Write two advantages that community-led sanitation might have over governments or aid agencies providing toilets to a community.


Read the field story, A hygienic latrine is more valuable than a silver bracelet about Asmin, who lives in a small village in Bangladesh, and how she installed a latrine for her family.

Read or revisit the case study Mekong Delta water and sanitation, which highlights community participation in improving sanitation and access to water.

Activity 7: Multimedia presentation

Students research water and sanitation issues in selected countries, exploring why different countries vary and what can be done to help ensure that all people experience the right to safe water and sanitation.

Divide into groups to investigate selected countries.  

Build up a profile of the country’s statistics related to the Millennium Development Goals, the right to safe water and sanitation, and the challenges the country faces.

Use the country profiles and information from other internet and library sources. For example, you can find statistics and country comparisons using charts and maps at The World Bank – Countries and Economies and The World Bank – Indicators (Refer to the indicators ‘improved water source’ and ‘improved sanitation facilities’.)

Create a multimedia presentation about the right to safe water and sanitation using a program such as Snappy to outline the issues, and present recommendations and a strategy to support a water or sanitation project.

Present your work to the class. Ask each group questions related to their research and recommendations.

Discuss the following questions as a class:

  • Why might statistics vary so much between countries?
  • What social, environmental, economic or political factors may have contributed to each situation?
  • What can be done to bring about a world in which everyone, both now and into the future, has access to sufficient fresh water and adequate sanitation to live a healthy life?

Related activities

See the following related activities in Health, and adapt them as appropriate.


Staying healthy (Years 5-6)

Activity 3: Oral rehydration solution

Students investigate why diarrhoeal diseases cause many deaths each year, with young children particularly at risk. They learn how oral rehydration therapy, which uses a simple solution of sugar and salt, helps overcome dehydration and possible death from diarrhoea.

Activity 4: Handwashing for hygiene

Students learn about the importance of handwashing to avoid the spread of disease and explore the technology and health benefits of a Tippy-tap, a simple device designed to encourage handwashing in areas with limited water supplies.

Activity 5: Dying for want of basic needs to be met

Students explore how factors including education and income, as well as access to safe water and adequate sanitation and healthcare, can help protect the lives of young children.

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In Lombok, Indonesia, a woman pours clean water from the central source into her covered storage container.
Photo by Josh Estey for AusAID
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In Lombok, Indonesia, a woman pours clean water from the central source into her covered storage container. Photo by Josh Estey for AusAID