On Wednesday 28th April 2021, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution on drowning prevention which will see the 25th July observed as World Drowning Prevention Day in order to promote awareness and encourage national action.
The Resolution, which was passed by the General Assembly, establishes drowning as an important international issue, recognised by all 193 Member States of the UN – including South Africa, sets out the actions that every country should take to prevent drowning and calls for a coordinated UN approach to drowning prevention. It also establishes an annual ‘World Drowning Prevention Day,’ which will be marked for the first time on July 25, 2021.
The UN General Assembly encouraged all countries to take action to prevent drownings, which have caused over 2.5 million deaths in the past decade, over 90% of them in low-income and middle-income countries.
“A UN Global Drowning Prevention Resolution and a UN International day to focus the world’s attention on drowning will help to put the spotlight on these tragedies which are preventable. Importantly it also commits the South African Government to take actions to prevent drowning”, said Andrew Ingram, NSRI Acting Director of Drowning Prevention.
“The old adage of ‘prevention is better than cure’ couldn’t ring truer when it comes to drowning. With drowning, it is often not possible to ‘cure’ the damage done. Prevention therefore is a major focus area for the NSRI, the only maritime rescue service operating in Southern African waters”, added Ingram.
Each year in South Africa there are approximately 1 500 fatal drownings of which 350 are children. Drowning is a leading cause of child mortality with about a third of the fatal drownings being children under the age of 14.
The vast majority of these deaths could and should have been prevented.
According to the United Nations, the world’s highest drowning rates are in Africa while the highest number of drowning deaths are in Asia.
“Drowning is a social equity issue that disproportionately affects children and adolescents in rural areas, with many countries reporting drowning as the leading cause of childhood mortality and drowning being among the 10 leading causes of death globally for 5- to 14-year-olds,” the resolution says.
The assembly stresses that drowning “is preventable” using “low-cost interventions” and calls on countries to consider introducing water safety, swimming and first aid lessons as part of school curricula. It encourages nations to appoint “a national focal point for drowning prevention,” develop countrywide prevention programs, and enact and enforce water safety laws.
“The NSRI is proud of the difference that we have made in helping to reduce the number of drownings in South Africa in the last 15 years. Since 2006, the NSRI has been teaching water safety in schools around the country. In total our 20 full time water safety instructors have reached just under 3 million people (mostly primary school children) with our lessons on how to be safe in and near water as well as how to do bystander CPR”, added Ingram.
Following the World Health Organisation’s 2017 Report on Preventing Drowning, the NSRI launched their Pink Rescue Buoy campaign. To date the NSRI’s public rescue devices have been used to rescue 72 people with no harm to a rescuer and all rescues that were attempted were successful. Currently there are over 900 Pink Rescue Buoys deployed around South Africa.
More recently the NSRI launched their Survival Swimming programme where their professional instructors and volunteer instructors give free lessons to children, teaching them how to control their breathing, orientate themselves in water, float and propel themselves at least 5 meters through the water.
“Prevention is key when it comes to water safety, and the NSRI has the tools to help prevent these deaths, but we need your help”, added Ingram. You can help the NSRI to save lives by donating to their survival swimming programme or to their rescue services – you can see the various way to donate here – www.nsri.org.za/donate.
“We would like to recognise the huge amount of work that our sister organisation in the United Kingdom, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has put into making this dream a reality”, added Ingram.