Drowning prevention now an international priority

The United Nations (UN) has adopted its first ever Resolution on Drowning Prevention. 

A child plays by water in Bangladesh

Photo: RNLI / Mike Lavis

A child plays by water in Bangladesh

This resolution establishes drowning as an important international issue, recognised by all 193 UN member states. It sets out actions that every country should take to prevent drowning. And it establishes an annual World Drowning Prevention Day, which will be marked this year on 25 July.

RNLI Chief Executive Mark Dowie says: ‘As an organisation dedicated to saving lives on and around the water, we are thrilled to have supported member states in efforts to secure a UN Global Drowning Prevention Resolution. 

‘A new UN international day for drowning prevention offers an annual, global opportunity for governments, water safety organisations and the public to come together to recognise the preventability of drowning, and the positive, practical actions that we can all take to keep individuals, families and communities safe.’

And Mark wasn't the only one to welcome this good news:


Why do we need this resolution?

Every other minute, someone in the world drowns. Almost half of those who drown are children and young people.

That’s 2½ million lives lost in the last decade.

The UN Resolution was put forward by Bangladesh and Ireland, and co-sponsored by 79 countries. It recognises that drowning affects every nation of the world, though its impact is disproportionate. Ninety per cent of drowning deaths happen in low and middle-income countries, with Asia carrying the highest burden.

The RNLI has been working with international partners and in-country experts to help stop these needless deaths. And having drowning prioritised at the UN level will be a huge help in tackling this global epidemic.


The problem in Bangladesh

Rowshanara looked after her granddaughter Shohagi (2) in Barisal, so that her daughter could work in a factory in Dhaka. Shohagi drowned in the pond outside her home, when Rowshanara was called away to work with her livestock.

‘In the rainy season, water surrounds us here on four sides,’ Rowshanara says. ‘What can I say about this sadness? Shohagi used to talk in such a sweet way, everyone in this neighbourhood loved her. If someone came to the house to visit and the tea was boiling, she would try to find the plates and the cups.

‘I understand why it happened. I’m just one person. When I was all alone, I used to say to myself: “How will I look after the child?” If there had just been someone at home that day, she could have stayed with them and been looked after. I have to work to live, but if I hadn’t gone to work that day she would have survived. I can’t accept it.’

Find out more about drowning prevention in Bangladesh.

The problem in Tanzania

Zanzibar fisherman Ali Hamdu has been in two serious boat accidents

Photo: RNLI/Aram Atkinson

Like a lot of fisherfolk in Zanzibar, Ali Hamdu has been involved in serious boating accidents. In the first, he was stranded at sea for 2 days. Compared with farming and other labour, fishing pays a meaningful wage, forcing many to pay the ultimate price for supporting their families.

Ali says: ‘Yes, you can change jobs and you can change your life, but only based on your finances and the opportunities you have. Now I’ve recovered from these incidents, I can’t just doss around - I’m forced to do the same thing. Most of us would change jobs if we could.

Find out more about drowning prevention in Tanzania.

So what could the solutions be?

The good news is that drowning is preventable, and now, with the UN’s endorsement, we and our partners are in an even better position to make progress.

The RNLI has provided a lifesaving service around the UK and Ireland for nearly 200 years, and we are proud to share our lifesaving expertise, knowledge and influence to help others save lives across the world.

Here are just a few examples of the international work we’ve done so far: We have helped develop low-cost lifesaving equipment, helped partners to teach children swim survival and water safety skills, and trained lifeguards who patrol the world’s longest sea beach. Your kindness helps vital interventions like these, and others, to continue.

The UN resolution won’t change global drowning overnight, but it’s a welcome step in the right direction, and it’s definitely worth celebrating.