The global drowning report released on Monday by the World Health Organization (WHO) is shocking. The worldwide loss of 372,000 lives to drowning each year is both disturbing and unacceptable.
The International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) welcomes the report for putting the issue firmly on the global health agenda, and wholeheartedly supports its recommendations for improved data, national water safety strategies, tailored programs and global partnerships.
The WHO estimates 372,000 lives are lost each year to drowning. That’s more than 1,000 people every day, or 40 every hour. More than 90 percent of these losses happen in low- and middle-income countries. The WHO data is the best available but, with drowning deaths going unreported in many countries, the picture is incomplete, and the actual number of deaths is likely to be much higher. To understand the true scale of the issue, more information is needed and better recording of data is vital.
Despite its epidemic proportions, and even though it’s a major blocker to some countries reducing child mortality, drowning has never been a priority issue on the international agenda. The charity welcomes this important report from the WHO for bringing attention to this issue, which has gone largely unnoticed for so long, and for calling to action those who are in a position to do something about it.
The tragedy of the situation is that drowning is largely preventable and, what’s more, the solutions are relatively simple and inexpensive. We believe that, as a minimum standard, every nation should have a national drowning prevention strategy, underpinned by a range of practical, effective programs and interventions.
However, because of the scale of the problem, this isn’t something that we can do on our own and global partnerships need to be established to tackle it. Active discussions are already taking place between the IMRF and other organizations, including the International Life Saving Federation (ILS), the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh (CIPRB), the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS) Commonwealth, the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS) Australia, Plan UK, Safe Kids Worldwide and Lifesaving Society Canada, to consider forming a coalition, with members committed to making drowning prevention a global priority and creating a plan for concerted and united action.
The IMRF has consultative status at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping. We seek to improve maritime search and rescue capability around the world; improvements which would partly address the huge problem the WHO highlight.
Wholeheartedly joining with our partners in welcoming the WHO’s call for action on drowning worldwide, we would draw particular attention to the loss of lives in low- and middle-income countries among artisanal fishermen and the users of water transport, including ferry passengers. The IMRF would also highlight the continuing and severe loss of life among asylum-seekers and migrants attempting to cross seas, lakes and rivers to safety.
“All too often,” says Bruce Reid, IMRF chief executive, “safety standards are too low or have to be ignored to make a living. All too often safety information, such as weather forecasting, is not readily available. All too often people in trouble at sea or on other open waters cannot raise the alarm when they get into difficulty, or do not have the survival equipment that might keep them alive until help comes. All too often there are no search and rescue facilities to help them: the IMO’s Global SAR Plan is far from complete.
“We need improved data, to help us focus on the problems properly and, with our partners, implement really relevant responses. We need effective implementation of safety standards, so that accidents are fewer, and less deadly when they do occur. And we need good-quality search and rescue facilities. With these things, we can help reduce these appalling drowning figures. The challenge is there. It is up to everyone who can to take it up.”
The WHO’s Global report on drowning: preventing a leading killer and related materials can be found here.