Zero Water Day Partnership is engaging Schools and Youth around the world to take action

I am delighted that our MalDent Project blog is today publishing a guest post from my friend and colleague, Dr Julian Fisher.

Julian is a dental surgeon who qualified from the University of Birmingham in 1985. Subsequently he completed an MSc in HIV/AIDS from Stellenbosch University in 2002 and gained his MIH (International Health) from Charité University, Berlin in 2005. Julian, who is based in Germany, is now working as a policy advisor and analyst specializing in health workforce education, social and environmental determinants of health, and global oral health. These are aspects of health that are central to the MalDent Project and, not surprisingly, we have identified multiple synergies. Julian’s ongoing consultancy work with WHO, UNESCO / UNEP, provides further valuable input to our joint interests.

In this post, Julian describes a very exciting initiative in which the MalDent Project, University of Malawi College of Medicine and the University of Glasgow are among many participants across the globe.

Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa. Photo by J Fisher

In the early 2000s I worked in Brooklyn Chest Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa caring for the oral health of patients co-infected with HIV AIDS and TB. Every summer Cape Town would have water restrictions, but in 2018 the Western Cape Government warned that water reservoirs were so low that there was a real risk that 12th April would be ‘Zero Water Day’.

So what would happen when the water taps ran dry in Cape Town? At the end of the National Geographic short film ‘what happens when Cape Town runs of water’, the narrator of the film Ray De Vries sums up by saying that everyone can learn from Cape Town’s experiences, in his words “what we did wrong and what we are doing wrong, what we did right and what we are doing right”.

I teach Global Health and Sustainable Development at Universities in Europe, but also in local secondary schools where I live, and use UNESCO resources for education for sustainable development, and global citizenship education

But the children and Youth in my classes were often at Fridays for Future demonstrations and were becoming increasingly frustrated about not being able to ‘do something’. And they were right! I set out to develop a learning plan that I could use in both higher education / university courses as well as in secondary schools so that students could learn how to transform (Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development). Learning to transform that would engage their families and friends, the whole school and local communities and work together to take action.

The result was  the Zero Water Day Partnership, which drew on my work for UNESCO around Lifelong Learning and Health, and my engagement with UN Mountain Partnership through the Training for Health Equity Network.

Screenshot of participants including MalDent team members

Zero Water Day Partnership (ZWDP) was launched via a webinar on Tuesday 24th November with over 25 participants from schools in 14 countries around the world. Prof Jeremy Bagg from Glasgow Dental School spoke about plans for the COP 26 Climate Change summit and the MalDent Project.

A key part of ZWDP is supporting learning in the classroom and applying it though whole school, whole community action. Action in school will support WHO UNESCO initiative of making every school a health promoting school. One of the core objectives of the ZWDP is connecting health promotion activities (SDG 3 Health) such as toothbrushing with the health of our planet through conversations around water use and management (SDG 6 Water), and reducing inequality (SDG 10). The MalDent Project has established Malawi’s first dental school and is supporting development of a national Oral Health Policy, including a dental caries prevention and health promotion programme for children.

Children at a school in Malawi.
Photo courtesy of Vicky Milne

EM Alcides Francisco Brantes, a ZWDP participating school in Salinas region of Nova Friburgo Brazil, has  programmes supporting sustainable practices such as family agriculture and water preservation practices for the communities within the 3 peaks state park.

The Salinas Region of Nova Friburgo, Brazil. Photo by Prof Luis Eduardo
EM Alcides Francisco Brantes School, Nova Friburgo, Brazil Photo by Prof Luis Eduardo

Project Learning to Smile in Nova Friburgo, uses health/environmental social practices such as milk teeth exchange and clean water preservation to formulate online literacy content and support teachers’ lesson plans. 

Our ambition, established in 2019, was to deliver a one-day high-level meeting with Scottish Government, WHO, UNESCO and other key stakeholders, followed by a two and a half day workshop. These were to take place just before the COP 26 Climate Change summit in Glasgow that had been scheduled for November 2020. The University of Glasgow had agreed to host the meeting and plans were developing well until the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in postponement of all these events to November 2021. Undeterred, we have re-booked our slot with the University and intend to run the same format of activities in November next year.

A highlight of the event, regardless of exact timing and mode of delivery, will be an opportunity for schoolchildren and their teachers to present materials they have generated through participation in the Zero Water Day Partnership activities during 2020 / 2021 (see below). This will provide a very powerful demonstration of the critical importance of linking education, health and care for the environment to empower young people through their learning in schools.

What is the Zero Water Day Partnership?

ZWDP is a voluntary partnership of schools with teachers and children learning with and from each other to take action on water and sustainable development in their homes, schools and communities. A key focus is on mountains as water towers of the world and promoting the  #mountainsmatter campaign in schools to empower Youth to play an active role in protecting ecosystems around the world’s summits for future generations, including issues such as sustainable mountain tourism

ZWDP looks to learn in and from the COVID pandemic and provides maximum flexibility for all schools to participate, so that children have the opportunity to share with others around the world despite all the immense challenges they are facing. Participating schools will have an opportunity to present during the 3.5 day workshop to be held in Glasgow the week before the COP 26 Climate Change Summit in Scotland, November 2021, and contribute to a short film and eBook.

Each school will follow a seven step learning plan based on UNESCO resources for education for sustainable development and global citizenship education. The first learning step will encourage children to imagine their future in 2050 and include a UNESCO Futures of education consultation, as well as building a planetary health weather station.

Students at Freie Waldorf School have started building the weather station, as well as a ZWDP signpost to all the other schools. Community action will use United Nations International Days including International Mountain Day to emphasize the interconnectedness and interdependence of issues, and promote multi-, inter- and intra-generational conversations.

ZWDP will help share and exchange experiences across schools, for example Wanakha Central School and Shaba Higher Secondary School in Bhutan (SHSS).

Wanakha Central School, Bhutan. Photo by Namkha Gyeltshen

SHSS and its Spring Water Conservation project was initiated by the Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy. Members of the school, which includes teachers and students, helps citizens to understand their roles in democratic processes as well as to improve overall media literacy. One of their programmes includes teaching the youth to harness the power of the media to help their communities and volunteerism.  

Spring water conservation, Shaba Higher Secondary School, Bhutan. Photos by Chimi Wangmo

For information on the Zero Water Day Partnership visit our Facebook page:

So what happens when dentistry runs out of water?

I have been organising a series of Oral Health Navigators Training Programmes to dental students in Europe and around the world. A key element is exploring how a shift to a model of oral health and dentistry based on social determinants of health approaches can help to mainstream oral health across and between the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and within SDG 3 (Health). Oral health is closely related to almost all SDG 3 targets.

Such an approach will open new ways of thinking, and new ways of working, which will help to create resilient and sustainable dental practice for the future.

For more details on Oral Health Navigators Training Programme, contact;

Other related social media sites:

Profile on LinkedIn: Julian Fisher

Researchgate: Julian Fisher

Twitter: @OralHealth17 and @julianmfisher

Instagram: fisher.julian

You tube: Julian Fisher

Facebook: Social Determinants of Health Education

One thought on “Zero Water Day Partnership is engaging Schools and Youth around the world to take action

  1. Exciting and challenging program ahead. I really hope studeents will come up with new ways of thinking and doing things with the ZWDP.

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