Every single hour, of every single day, 40 people around the world die from drowning.
This preventable killer is among the top 10 leading causes of death in every region of the world, and sadly it is children under five who are at the greatest risk of what is, essentially, a global pandemic.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) last month published its Global Report on Drowning, which now recognises the serious extent of the problem.
It’s a long-awaited and welcome report that sets out just how serious the issue is, and lists suggestions as to what can be done so that the global community can start to tackle the problem. Such is the enormity of the issue that it’s astounding that this is the first report and strategy of its kind to be published.
We hear about other terrible blights in the press every day, but drowning is the silent pandemic. An estimated 372,000 people die every year but the true figure is likely to be much higher, possibly as high as 50 per cent more in some countries, due to the methods of data collection used.
Regardless, the estimated death toll still puts drowning at two-thirds of that of malnutrition, and more than 50 per cent of that of malaria. Despite this, we have targeted prevention methods for these two issues, but none for drowning.
And let’s not kid ourselves that this is solely a Third World issue, as despite more than 90 per cent of these deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries, the problem also exists in developed nations where walking next to or being near water leads to a high number of incidents of drowning. The majority of drowning happens in inland water, in everyday situations. Within poorer nations, travel and fetching water are the major factors where drowning occurs.
The WHO report outlines 10 key actions to prevent drowning, simple steps which could help to save thousands of lives every year:
- Install barriers controlling access to water
- Provide safe places away from water for pre-school children
- Teach school age children basic swimming, water safety and rescue skills
- Train the public in safe rescue and resuscitation
- Strengthen public awareness
- Set safe boating, shipping and ferry regulations
- Manage flood risks and other hazards
- Coordinate drowning prevention with other sectors
- Develop a national water safety plan
- Address priority research questions with studies.
On top of these key actions, the report also outlines four recommendations that nations can implement to begin to address the pandemic, recommendations which RoSPA supports.
Nation states should A) implement proven prevention strategies tailored to their own circumstances, B) take steps to improve the data available, C) aim to develop a national water safety plan, and D) band together to form a global partnership for drowning prevention.
Together, we can tackle an issue that is so easily preventable that it should not even be a problem. Hundreds of thousands of people are dying needlessly each year, and, as the report states, the time to act is now.
David Walker, RoSPA’s leisure safety manager