Drowning is a type of suffocation caused by submerging or immersing the mouth and nose in the water. Most fatal drownings happen alone or in situations where others are either unaware of the victim’s situation or are unable to help. Drowning is one of the leading causes of death globally for children and young people aged 1-24 years. Every year, an estimated 236,000 people drown.
More than 90 per cent of drowning deaths occur in rivers, lakes, wells and domestic water storage vessels in low- and middle-income countries, with children and adolescents in rural areas disproportionately affected. These deaths are frequently linked to daily, routine activities, such as bathing, collecting water for domestic use, travelling over water on boats or ferries, and fishing. The impacts of seasonal or extreme weather events - including monsoons - are also a frequent cause of drowning.
Access to water: Increased access to water is another risk factor for drowning. Individuals with occupations such as commercial fishing or fishing for subsistence, using small boats in low-income countries are more prone to drowning. Children who live near open water sources, such as ditches, ponds, irrigation channels, or pools are especially at risk.
Flood disasters: Drowning accounts for 75 per cent of deaths in flood disasters. Flood disasters are becoming both more frequent, as well as more severe and this trend is expected to continue as part of climate change. Drowning risks increase with floods particularly in low- and middle-income countries where people live in flood prone areas and the ability to warn, evacuate, or protect communities from floods is weak or only just developing.
Travelling on water: Daily commuting and journeys made by migrants or asylum seekers often take place on overcrowded, unsafe vessels lacking safety equipment or are operated by personnel untrained in dealing with transport incidents or navigation.
World Drowning Prevention Day is observed annually on July 25. The Day offers a platform to raise concern in people all over the world against the graveness of drowning. This global advocacy event serves as an opportunity to highlight the tragic and profound impact of drowning on families and communities and to offer life-saving solutions to prevent it. The day highlights the importance of water safety education, supervision, and preventative measures to save lives and protect individuals from drowning.
World Drowning Prevention Day was established by the UN General Assembly Resolution’s Global drowning prevention in April 2021. The World Health Organization (WHO), recently highlighted the need to provide safe places away from water for children, teach them to swim, and improve flood risk management to prevent drowning deaths.
To mark this year’s World Drowning Prevention Day, WHO will continue to focus on raising awareness on drowning as a public health issue, reminding people that anyone can drown, but no one should.
There are many actions to prevent drowning through evidence-based, low-cost solutions, such as:
Installing barriers controlling access to water: Installing barriers (e.g. covering wells, using doorway barriers and playpens, fencing swimming pools etc.) to control access to water hazards, or removing water hazards entirely greatly reduces water hazard exposure and risk.
Teaching basic swimming and water safety skills: Teaching school-age children basic swimming, water safety and safe rescue skills is another approach. But these efforts must be undertaken with an emphasis on safety, and an overall risk management that includes safety-tested curricula, a safe training area, screening and student selection, and student-instructor ratios established for safety.
It goes without saying that formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning. Take advantage of water safety courses and swimming lessons offered by certified instructors.
Wear a life jacket: Life jackets reduce the risk of drowning while boating for people of all ages and swimming abilities. Life jackets should be used by children for all activities while in and around natural water. Life jackets can also be used by weaker swimmers of all ages in and around natural water and swimming pools. Do not rely on air-filled or foam toys, as these are not safety devices.
Know the risks of natural waters: Lakes, rivers, and oceans have hidden hazards such as dangerous currents or waves, rocks or vegetation, and limited visibility. Check the forecast before activities in, on, or near water. Local weather conditions can change quickly and cause dangerous flash floods, strong winds, and thunderstorms with lightning strikes.
Don’t hyperventilate or hold your breath for a long time: Do not hyperventilate before swimming underwater or try to hold your breath underwater for long periods of time. This can cause you to pass out and drown. This is sometimes called ‘hypoxic blackout’ or ‘shallow water blackout’.
Improving flood risk management: Building resilience to flooding and managing flood risks through better disaster preparedness planning, land use planning, and early warning systems can prevent drowning during flood disasters.
Setting and enforcing safe boating, shipping and ferry regulations: Effective policies and legislation are also important for drowning prevention. Setting and enforcing safe boating, shipping and ferry regulations is an important part of improving safety on the water and preventing drowning.
Support water safety organisations: Contribute to or volunteer with organisations dedicated to drowning prevention and water safety education. These organisations often provide swimming scholarships, water safety resources, and community outreach programs. By supporting their efforts, you can make a positive impact in spreading water safety awareness and saving lives!