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Climate Related Disasters Could Increase Deaths From Drowning By 50%

Two new reports by the World Health Organization (WHO) warn that climate related extreme weather events or disasters could increase the burden of deaths by drowning by as much as 50% in the Asia Pacific region. The reports comes ahead of World Drowning Prevention Day on July 25.

Overall in 2019, over 144,000 people drowned in the Asia Pacific region, accounting for 61% of global drowning deaths.

Of the 70,000 drowning deaths in the WHO South-East Asia region in 2019, more than 33% were among children aged under 15 years. On average, men were three to four times more likely to drown than women. In the WHO Western Pacific region, older people accounted for 34% of drowning deaths in in 2019. Men were at higher risk than women here too, contributing to 66% of all drowning deaths.

“Despite many lives being lost each year, drowning remains a largely unrecognized threat to health and well-being,” said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO regional director for South-East Asia. “We need to work across all sectors to develop national water safety plans and policies and implement tested and low-cost water safety interventions to prevent drowning and save lives. No child or adult should lose their life to drowning.” 

Non-fatal drowning – where individuals are rescued and/or resuscitated – also results in a substantial number of hospitalizations in the two WHO regions, and can cause severe brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities and permanent loss of basic function.

Climate change set to worsen the problem

The region is home to some of the most polluted cities in the world, contributing to global temperature rise. At a time when global temperatures are soaring and glaciers retreating, many of the countries in the region have seen increased impact of climate change. 

This places already vulnerable communities and individuals at increased drowning risk, the report warns. More frequent and extreme weather events can lead to more regular and intense floods, increasing population’s exposure to potentially hazardous interactions with water.

Best practices on drowning prevention

The new reports provide countries with best practices on drowning prevention interventions and policies, including day care for children, the use of barriers for controlling access to water, public awareness campaigns focused on behaviour change, and policies and legislation on water safety, including regulation of recreational boating and maritime transport.

“We are proud to be able to highlight, through these two reports, examples from our member states of leadership, innovation and strong partnerships within and beyond the health sector on drowning prevention,” said Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific.

Efforts, especially for at-risk groups such as children, include: survival swim and water skills training in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand; community-based day care/creches for young children in Bangladesh, India and Thailand; and improved information systems and public awareness campaigns focused on behaviour change in Thailand.

The reports come after the United Nations General Assembly accepted the resolution on global drowning prevention in April this year.

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