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Just one inch of water: The silent drowning epidemic

Drowning is a silent epidemic that claims an estimated 360,000 lives every year, many of them children. 

Children prepare to jump into a river in Nadi, Fiji

Photo: Zackary Canepari

Neps (17) and his brothers prepare to jump into the river next to their house in Nadi, Fiji 

In Asia and the Pacific, water shapes the land and the livelihoods of its people. From dawn until dusk, life there depends on the rivers and the oceans. But all it takes for a child to drown is one inch of water. 

It could be a toddler slipping into a pond while their mother goes about her daily chores, a group of children walking to school through rice paddies, or a community hit by flooding. 

In many parts of Asia, drowning is now the leading killer of children over the age of 1. In Bangladesh, 50 children drown every day. 

This global killer is on the rise. And it’s not getting the attention it deserves.

A brother and sister fish in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

Photo: GMB Akash

Brother and sister Reshma (8) and Ridoy (9) are fishing on floodwaters in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, after a monsoon. Neither of them know how to swim.

Anybody can drown, but nobody should

We can prevent drowning. And we must prevent drowning. 

There are plenty of ways to do this, from using barriers to control access to water, creating day care centres for pre-school children, and teaching survival and swimming skills to school children. (Our international work is funded with just 2p out of every £1 donated.)

But in order to make these plans a reality, we need political will and technical support. We need to make drowning prevention a global priority.

To get this issue onto the international political stage, we’re organising a photo exhibition at the United Nations headquarters, based on the notion that a child can drown in an inch of water. It will feature photographs from three countries with some of the highest drowning rates in the world: Thailand, Bangladesh and Fiji. 

The stunning images were shot by acclaimed photographers Zackary Canepari, Poulomi Basu and GMB Akash, who were briefed to capture the ways local communities use and live around the water. The exhibition will open to the public on Thursday 28 to Friday 29 June.

You can see more of the photographs below:

You don’t need to drop in at the UN to see the rest of the photographs. Browse the Just One Inch of Water exhibition online at Exposure.

The RNLI is working with global leaders, public health organisations and at-risk communities to help turn the tide on drowning and reduce this staggering loss of life. Find out more about our international work we do.