Activity 5.2 - Choosing statistics to tell a story

Course: 2018 Science Communication Skills for Water Cooperation and Diplomacy
Book: Activity 5.2 - Choosing statistics to tell a story
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Date: Thursday, 2 December 2021, 11:23 AM

1 - Introduction

Remember from previous modules the aim is not just to simplify, but to tell a story that will make your audience sit up. Your message can be made more engaging by employing methods such as the inverted pyramid; having focussed areas of messaging; and injecting news values. Statistics will help reinforce this and it is worth taking the time to choose which ones will help strengthen your message.

You also need to choose what you share with care. Different governments might not agree on official figures for the same thing; this can be a sensitive issue in water diplomacy. Some governments might not even want their researchers to share their data with journalists.

When you approach this exercise be mindful of this, and check with colleagues or supervisors whether any of the data you might share is politically sensitive. Check this podcast out to explore this issue and more surrounding Nile Basin communication; podcast number 3 and 5 especially.

2 - The story behind the statistics

  1. Here are a series of statistics taken from an article about water resources and rationing in Egypt. They have been taken out of context. 

  2. In your own notes, write down two ideas for stories they could tell.

  • 55.5 billion cubic meters of drinking water come from the Nile
  • Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Mohamed Abdel Atti decided to reduce the rice agriculture area in Egypt from 1,700,000 feddans to 724,200 feddans
  • The groundwater in the Nile Valley and Delta is about 6.5 billion cubic meters, rain water on North coast is 1.3 billion cubic meters. 
  • Egypt annually needs at least 90 billion cubic meters of water to cover 90 million citizens’ needs
  • Egypt currently has only 60 billion cubic meters of water
  • The amount of clean water produced throughout the country in 2016 was 9,297 million cubic meters. The highest rate during the last eight years was in 2012/2013 when it reached 9,727 million cubic meters. 
  • The Ministry of Agriculture has identified 53 varieties of strategic water-saving crops 
  • The percentage of loss in pure water produced by purification stations is 31 percent.


Idea 1: Egypt reducing food production in order to save water; how can it have both?

Idea 2: Egypt developing new plant varieties to save water

3 - Exploring Nile Basin statistics

  1. Follow this link and explore some of the statistics about the Nile Basin on the FAO website. 
  2. In your own notes, write sentences that you think would engage a reader based on the numbers alone. List the news values they contain. 

Example 1 “There are years when Sudan experiences no rainfall at all, what do you think this means for the population?”  (news values: surprise, bad news) 

Example 2 “At its current rate of growth, Sudan will no longer have a surplus of water in X years” (news values: conflict of development versus natural resources, surprise, bad news)