Drowning prevention advocate calls for UN action

Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 13 2019 05:56 PM | Updated as of Oct 13 2019 10:14 PM

DURBAN, South Africa - In the past decade, at least 4 million died due to drowning.

Despite this, the United Nations has yet to come up with a resolution that directly addresses drowning.

This reality was underlined by Gemma May, Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) International Advocacy Manager, before the World Conference on Drowning Prevention 2019 in South Africa on Wednesday. 

May called on the UN to think of ways to combat what she called a “silent killer”. She said drowning was never mentioned in any UN resolution, except for the "passing reference" in the UN's goal of eliminating child injuries by 2030.

“We need immediate urgent recognition, action, voice… Where is the drowning community? We need to get out of our box and start connecting with policymakers at the very highest levels,” May told Conference attendees composed of WHO officials, drowning prevention advocates and government representatives from all over the world.

The World Health Organization (WHO) now categorizes drowning as the third major cause of unintentional death worldwide.

The 2016 WHO Global Health Estimates report also placed drowning as the second “leading killer of children” under 15, next to meningitis. 

David Meddings in an earlier briefing with international journalists said, although drowning was not directly mentioned in the 8 Point Millennium Development Goals, the issue is actually covered by the 4th goal, which is to reduce the child mortality rate.

In 2016, WHO estimated the number of fatal drowning victims worldwide at around 322,000. The number is equivalent to one drowning death every 90 seconds.

The number “does not include intentional drowning deaths (suicide or homicide) or drowning deaths caused by flood disasters and water transport incidents such as ferry capsizes,” according to the WHO fact sheet.

The Organization’s data showed that a high number of drowning incidents happen in “low-and-middle-income-countries” like those Southeast Asia, Africa and Western Pacific nations.

Majority of fatal drowning victims were also male, WHO said.

“Young males more likely take risks. Risk-taking behavior. They’re more likely to go out even to most dangerous water bodies. They are more likely to be more active especially in other countries,” said Dr. Caroline Lukaszyk, WHO’s consultant and regional data coordinator on violence and injury prevention.

Others at high risk of drowning are fishermen, and people engaged in water transport, especially those whose vessels are no longer dependable, Lukaszyk added.

The WHO admitted that coming up with a more definite report on the number of fatal drowning victims remains a big issue in almost all countries due to the absence of a clear system of accounting for such deaths.

In the Philippines for example, the National Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Council recorded only 108 fatal drowning cases from the start of 2016 until Sept. 2019. 

Majority of these cases occurred as a result of tropical cyclones that hit the country.

The Department of Health’s 2018 4th Quarter data meantime recorded only 11 incidents, with only three cases as fatal.

The monitored incidents do not include those who were victims of sea disasters and other similar cases.

Note: RNLI is an organization that works with the UN. It promotes awareness and programs on drowning prevention.