GENEVA – On this first World Prevention of Drowning Day, the World Health Organization provides life-saving solutions to prevent most of the 236,000 estimated drowning deaths each year. The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution establishing this International Day in April to raise awareness of drowning as a serious problem.
The song celebrates summer as the season when living is easy. On a less celebratory note, summer is also the peak season for drowning deaths in the Northern Hemisphere.
Over the past decade, the World Health Organization reports that 2.5 million people have died in drownings. It says that more than half of drowning deaths are in people under the age of 30, with the highest rate among children under five.
WHO medical officer David Meddings said drowning is the second leading cause of death among children and young people under the age of 19 in wealthy countries such as the United States, Switzerland and France. He notes, however, that drowning disproportionately affects the poor and marginalized.
“The drowning rate in low- and middle-income countries is three times higher than in high-income countries. And so, it is actually the least resourceful population that is able to adapt to the threats around them that are at risk of drowning.” The western Pacific region has the highest drowning rate in the world, followed by the African region,” he said.
The WHO reports that more than 90% of drowning deaths in poor countries occur in rivers, lakes, wells, irrigation canals and even domestic water storage vessels. It states that children and adolescents are disproportionately affected in rural areas.
Meddings said national surveys in Africa show that most drownings occur among young adult males on fishing vessels.
“For example, a study was conducted among lakeside communities in Tanzania that showed that the risk of death from drowning is higher than the risk of death from HIV, TB or malaria in that population. Therefore, in young adult males 80% of deaths are attributed to being out on fishing vessels, which are often inherently unsafe watercraft without advance warning of the weather and without knowing how to swim,” he said.
The report does not include data on death rates related to floods, deaths due to water transport accidents such as capsized ferry boats, or migrant deaths that occur when crossing the dangerous Mediterranean Sea.
WHO recommends a number of cost-effective life-saving measures. It said that children should be taught basic swimming and water safety skills, wells and potentially dangerous water areas should be sealed off, and spectators should be trained in safe rescue and resuscitation. It said that safe boating and yachting rules should be implemented and sought improvement in flood risk management.