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‘Anyone can drown, but no one should’ – Taoiseach leads calls for safety on first UN World Drowning Prevention Day


Taoiseach Micheál Martin

Taoiseach Micheál Martin

Taoiseach Micheál Martin

Joint message from Taoiseach Micheál Martin and the Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, as they are the countries that led the passing of the UN Resolution on drowning:

Sunday July 25 marks the first UN World Drowning Prevention Day. It is a timely reminder to the world to pay attention to this significant but preventable public health challenge.

The date itself is significant: in the northern hemisphere, as people enjoy the summer and spend more time around the water, it is the peak period for drowning deaths. In other regions, monsoon season is starting, when the heaviest rains fall and the risk of flooding and drowning is greatest.

As nations with large stretches of coastline, inland waterways and thousands of lakes and ponds Bangladesh and Ireland are intimately aware of the benefits, but also the risks, associated with water. Our contexts may be radically different, but the problem is the same.

In each of our countries, drowning is one of the leading killers of young children. Globally children under five are at greatest risk of drowning. In 2016 alone, drowning killed an estimated 40 children a day in Bangladesh – more than a classroom full of children each day. In addition, many of our people rely on waterways and the sea for transportation and livelihoods, making them vulnerable to water-based deaths.

We have seen at first-hand the tragedy that drowning in all age groups brings to families and communities. Losing a life to the water is devastating. But it is also preventable. We have seen the implementation of successful strategies that save lives.

In 2015, Bangladesh introduced mandatory swimming lessons for children due to the disproportionate number of child deaths resulting from drowning. The government has also committed to ending preventable child deaths by 2035 and will be introducing a national drowning prevention programme later this year.

In 2018, Ireland launched a 10-year national drowning prevention strategy, which brought water safety into the national consciousness and showed that drowning is a serious public health threat. The strategy set clear, measurable, and achievable goals to prevent these tragedies.

And it worked. In the first year of implementation of the strategy, Ireland had the lowest number of drownings in 80 years. Within two years, the number of drownings had reduced by over a third, compared to the previous annual average.

Our countries’ actions exemplify the World Health Organization’s recommendation that drowning prevention needs targeted action. Building awareness of the small changes that can be made in, on or near water can have a huge impact. Our experiences highlight that drowning is a problem for countries of all regions and income groups. More than 90 percent of drowning deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, but high-income countries collectively also record thousands of drowning-related deaths each year. The vast majority of these deaths are preventable.

That’s why this year, Bangladesh and Ireland led efforts to secure a landmark United Nations Resolution on Drowning Prevention, unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly on April 28, 2021. Its purpose is to raise awareness of drowning as a significant but preventable threat to life, to recognize solutions exist, and to encourage interventions by governments, international organizations and civil society to prevent drowning.

In total, 81 countries co-sponsored the Resolution, reflecting that this is a significant problem with global resonance.

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This new resolution is a call to action for the world – for countries to use the simple, effective policies and interventions which we know save lives, and for the international community to see that preventing drowning matters enormously to public health.

Covid-19 has shown us how much can be achieved when the world works together to tackle a public health issue.

For the sake of our children, our communities, and our future generations, on World Drowning Prevention Day let us commit to making water exclusively a source of life. Anyone can drown, no one should.

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