According to WHO, around 372,000 people every year die from drowning, with more than half of deaths occurring among under-25s.
The total number of lives lost every year worldwide to drowning comes to 372,000, says the United Nations health agency. Over half of deaths by drowning occur among under-25s, and men are twice as likely to drown as women.
More than 90% of cases of drowning occur in low- and middle-income countries. The highest rates are in Africa, South East Asia and the Western Pacific.
"This death toll is almost two thirds that of malnutrition and well over half that of malaria," notes the report, "but unlike these public health challenges, there are no broad prevention efforts that target drowning."
The report also reveals that drowning is among the ten leading causes of death for children and young people in every region of the globe. It also shows that more children under 15 die every year of drowning than of measles or tuberculosis.
National policymakers and local communities need to scale up and invest more resources in efforts to prevent drowning, according to the report, which suggests several actions they can take.
WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan says efforts to reduce deaths in the very young have brought remarkable success in recent decades, but they have also revealed otherwise hidden childhood killers - and drowning is one of them.
Dr. Chan adds:
"This is a needless loss of life. Action must be taken by national and local governments to put in place the simple preventive measures articulated by WHO."
Drowning prevention strategies
The following highlights some of the drowning prevention strategies the WHO report suggests can be taken at local and national level:
- Install barriers to control access to water
- Make sure all children learn basic swimming skills
- Provide safe places for children, such as day care centers
- Train bystanders in safe rescue and resuscitation
- Improve boating, shipping and ferry regulations
- Adopt comprehensive policies for water safety
- Improve flood risk management.
WHO say they were alarmed to discover studies carried out in high-income countries show deaths due to drowning may be seriously underestimated.
Official drowning statistics may, for example, exclude drowning due to suicide, homicide, flood or disasters - such as ferries capsizing.
Dr. Etienne Krug, director of WHO's Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention, warns that all water poses a drowning risk, both inside, around and outside the home, adding:
"Drowning occurs in bathtubs, buckets, ponds, rivers, ditches and pools as people go about their daily lives. Losing hundreds of thousands of lives this way is unacceptable given what we know about prevention."
The report gives examples of drowning prevention projects in countries with high rates of drowning, such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. It recommends studying the projects to identify best practices that can then be implemented more widely.
Drowning also needs to be on the agenda in current debates about climate change, mass migrations, rural development, water and sanitation, says the report.