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People and Water

Changing Technologies
Water as a Precious Resource

People rely on water. Water is used in the home, for agriculture and for industry. Water can even be used to generate electricity.


Māori recognise many different types of water/momowai and each has different values and uses. Every body of water also has a life force/mauri and should not be mixed with water from another source.

The significance of water to Māori

  • wai (water) comes from Papatūānuku and Rangi-nui
  • water also has its own mauri (life force) and spirit
  • wai is linked to identity
  • it gives tangata whenua (people of the land) life and food
  • awa (rivers) stand for the tūpuna (ancestors) of the tangata whenua
  • water and rivers have their own mana (integrity)
  • spiritual qualities (mauri and wairua) can be badly affected by the misuse of water.

Ko te wai te ora ngā mea katoa - Water is the life giver of all things.

Water use

Different countries use different amounts of water, but we all tend to use them in similar ways. The way people use freshwater can be divided into three groups:


As the human population increases so too does our use of land for growing food. To make food, we need water. Irrigation is the artificial watering of land that does not get enough water through rainfall. Irrigation is probably the most important use of water. Nearly 70% of all freshwater used in the world is for agricultural purposes, like irrigating crops or managing livestock.


Industries use about 20% of freshwater to produce things like metals, wood, paper products, chemicals, petrol and oil. For example, it takes about 50,000 litres of water to make a car and about 200 litres to make one newspaper. One of the larger industrial water users is electrical generation.


Households use the remaining 10% of freshwater for things like drinking, cooking, cleaning, and watering the garden.

If we all use water wisely, we can make sure that there is enough clean freshwater to support people as well as plants and animals.

Increasing demand for water

Over the last 300 years, the world’s population has increased by seven times, but the amount of water we use has increased 35 times. We use fresh water for more things than ever before. This has meant that fresh water supplies are becoming depleted in many parts of the world.

Audio Māori keywords: 

All living things rely on water for survival. Image: Andrew Penny, LEARNZ.

Today, farming uses about 70% of the world's water. Image: Andrew Penny, LEARNZ.

Māori have a spiritual connection with water. Water provides life, food and identity. Image: Public Domain.

Water has many uses. Water can even be used to generate electricity. How is electricity generated from water? Image: LEARNZ.

There is only a limited supply of water on Earth therefore we must look after it. Image: LEARNZ.

Changing Technologies
Water as a Precious Resource