World Drowning Prevention Day

The 25th of July marks World Drowning Prevention Day, declared in April 2021 by General Assembly resolution A/RES/75/273. It is a global advocacy event which aims to highlight the tragic and profound impact of drowning on families and communities and to offer life-saving solutions to prevent it. 

Drowning represents the third leading cause of unintentional injury death and the second leading cause of childhood injury-related deaths worldwide. According to the WHO, an estimated 236,000 people drown every year. Over half of drowning deaths are among those under the age of 30, with the highest drowning rates among those between the age of 1 and 4. Drowning is highly different from other types of injuries since its outcome can be solely determined at the time of the incident. This makes prevention a key factor in the fight to reduce drowning-related deaths 

There are numerous causes that can be linked to drowning, among which are travelling on water, particularly on overcrowded or poorly maintained vessels, and flood disasters. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) has released data showing that in 2020, around 30.7 million people were internally displaced by disasters. Climate change has particularly increased the scale and frequency of flood disasters, which in turn led to an increased risk of drowning, particularly in low-income countries and areas with unplanned urbanization, something often common within refugee camps. This increased risk was particularly reflected in recent floods in Bangladesh which led to the death of at least 100 people, as well as in Pakistan where six people have lost their lives due to floods caused by heavy rains. Ivory Coastand Australia have also witnessed flood emergencies within their territory, which have raised awareness about the issue of climate change and how this is putting civilians all over the world, at risk.  

It is thus clear that climate change, and the consequent floods arising from it, are becoming an ever more present emergency that requires action and awareness. The WHO made a list of measures that can help drowning prevention. Among these, there is the suggestion to teach swimming, water safety and safe rescue skills as well as provide training to bystanders in safe rescue and resuscitation.  

Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and MOAS Flood and Water Safety Training  

In response to the high numbers of water-related deaths, MOAS has been working within the framework of Disaster Risk Reduction since 2019, providing technical expertise and support to local partners for the delivery of unique and innovative Flood and Water Safety Training. MOAS’ team also provides equipment to both volunteer responders from the refugee communities and local host communities. This training creates resilience against water-related risks, but also supports self-development, not only by providing volunteers will skills and equipment but also by improving leadership and teamwork practices. These programs also provide livelihoods to local tailors who make the safety equipment and receive up-skilling as part of the project.  

MOAS’ technical advisors design tailor-made tools used by our in-country implementation partners to combat these issues. These tools include the formulation of risk mapping and DRR programs, the design and prototyping of innovative safety equipment and the creation of safety and response training courses and the associated learning materials. MOAS not only creates these tools but adapts them for use in specific country contexts and supports our in-country partners in using them to implement extensive programming to reduce the risks and respond to incidents in real-world contexts 

Through our incredible global partners, MOAS has facilitated and supported the training of thousands of refugees and host community representatives, with each person also receiving a MOAS-designed and locally-made throw bag. 

The training is also addressed to women, who are extremely important agents for change. They play a significant role in disaster response and recovery stages. However, in refugee camps their roles in organizational decision-making have often been neglected, particularly in disaster risk governance. This has created equity issues among the most affected communities from disasters, as women offer unique perspectives and guidance when given the space to share their knowledge and skills. MOAS prioritizes the inclusion of women in flood and water safety training, so that they can be key agents in disaster recovery, and they can gain transferrable leadership-training.  

Drowning is the second leading cause of childhood injury-related deaths worldwide and the most common cause of injury-related deaths among children under 5 years old. Considering the exposure to drowning risks in refugee camps, there is a crucial need to design and implement a drowning prevention programme specifically suited to the environment and population of the refugee camps.  

How does the training work?  

The training is designed to enhance the safety of community members and help them respond to the risks posed by flooding and water-related disasters. After a theory lesson in the classroom, volunteers start practical training on land and in water and learn how to properly prepare for rapid flooding and practice response techniques. Volunteers are taught how to use a throw bag and bottle ring, and they learn launch techniques on dry land. Individual volunteers and teams wade through water using a pole, to identify hidden hazards. They also learn wading in line, to cross a river quickly and safely, and how use a throw bag in the water and rescue a person from drowning. With the safety boat, volunteers learn rescue techniques if someone is found unconscious in the water.  Boats can also evacuate families from flooded properties and move essential equipment. 


MOAS Report on Children Drowning in refugee camps  

A Rohingya refugee child dies by drowning almost every month in Bangladesh’s over-crowded camps. MOAS report “Investigating fatal childhood drowning incidents in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps 2021” found that at least 20 children have lost their lives in drowning accidents in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in two years. The main factors that impact drowning risk in the camps are high levels of rainfall, daylight hours, lack of supervision for children, and occurrence of collected water at the sites. Fatal drowning incidents among children under 5 usually occur if they are exposed to collected water sites (ponds and puddles) whilst caregivers are occupied with household duties. The age of the victims ranged from 2 to 17 years old. Fourteen (70%) of the victims were male and six (30%) were female. Six (30%) of the fatalities recorded were children under 5 and fourteen (70%) fatalities were school-age children (between 5 and 17 years old). Twelve (60%) of these fatalities occurred in ponds, three (15%) in canals, two (10%) in a deep man-made hole that had accumulated rain, and one (5%) each in a lake, reservoir and water bucket. Read the full report here: 

Final thoughts  

MOAS continues to advocate for expanded Disaster Risk Reduction services, to ensure drowning risk can be reduced. Given the different risks associated with age groups, and the importance of the wider community’s awareness and rescue skills, we will continue to provide a holistic approach to Flood and Water Safety training and drowning prevention. Flooding preparedness and water response are a priority for MOAS, to mitigate risk and save lives.  

Our training can be replicated worldwide both in refugee camps and vulnerable communities. 


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