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WATER: the Essence of life

Water is essential to life. Without water, our planet would be a lifeless place. Life originated millions of years ago in the oceans. All living creatures need water, including people. Water is so important that over 90% of our bodies are made out of water. Countries and regions which have a lot of water usually have more forests, plants and animals. It is no coincidence that the greatest abundance of life on Earth is found in countries which have rainforests, and the least varieties of life are found in deserts. In addition, the oceans of the world are filled with an abundance of marine life, including many kinds of seafood.

Water comes in many forms. Frozen water is called ice. When water becomes very hot, it changes into steam. Water that falls from the sky is called rain; frozen rain is called snow. In Korea, 70% of the country's water falls as rain in the months of June, July and August. Seawater, also called salt water, is the water found in the oceans and seas, and contains salt and other minerals which make it undrinkable. Freshwater is the water found in rivers, lakes and streams. Groundwater is the water found under the earth or in the mountains. When water comes out of the ground and appears on the surface, it is called spring water.

There is a very large amount of water on planet Earth. 97% of the Earths' water is seawater, 2.2% is ice located at the North Pole and the South Pole, and the remaining 0.8% is freshwater and groundwater. Only the tiny amount of the Earth's freshwater and groundwater is drinkable by humans.

People use water for many purposes. People use water to stay cool in hot weather and to satisfy their thirst. They also use water to grow food, to clean food and to cook it, to clean clothing and other things in their house, to bathe, and for the toilet. In the past, people got most of their water from springs in the mountains or from wells dug into the ground. Nowadays, most people in Korea get their water from water purification plants, which make the water clean. Water purification plants are large factories which remove bacteria and other forms of aquatic life from water and transport it to people's homes, where it comes out of the faucet. But in Korea today only about 4% of people drink their water directly from the faucet. Most people prefer to drink bottled spring water, which is safer and tastier than faucet water.

When people use water for bathing, for cleaning food, and for disposing of garbage, the water is no longer the same as it was in the beginning. It is contaminated. When a large number of people contaminate water over a long period of time, the rivers, streams, beaches and seas of the world become polluted. This makes it more difficult - and more expensive - to find clean water for the future, which everybody needs. Some scientists are now predicting that in the next century clean water will be very scarce - and in some countries it will be more expensive than oil!

Questions for Discussion

1. What happens to people when they don't drink enough water? Why is water important?

2. In Korea, only about 4% of people drink water directly from the faucet. Why is this? Do you prefer faucet water or spring water?

3. Water is used for many things. Can you think of any other ways that people use water, other than mentioned above?

4. In Korea, most of the rain falls in the summer months. How does this influence how people live? What effect can this have on the climate?

5. What happens to beaches, such as Haeundae or Kwangalli, when large amounts of sewage and pollution wash into the ocean over a long period of time?

6. Is water an environmental resource or an economic resource?

7. Is it important to use water wisely? Why?