When almost a quarter of a million people die suddenly, people pay attention. Indonesian tsunami in 2004. When a hurricane kills over 100 people and causes $100 billion in damage, people pay attention. Hurricane Sandy in 2012. When flooding overwhelms previously impregnable flood-control walls and procedures, people pay attention. Danube River in 2013.
Cataclysmic natural disasters involving water are nothing new. The earliest recorded tsunami I could find occurred in 6,100 B.C. in Norway, with Japan having the dubious distinction of having the most tsunamis. Predictably drowning is the leading cause of death during such events, but it doesn’t have to be so, and we need to be educating the public before the next such disaster, because it will occur.
In the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, 80% of the victims were women and children. Why? They couldn’t swim. How horrifically simple. Of course that is an oversimplification, a child, or anyone, may have been to small or weak given the force of the water, but the numbers speak for themselves, those who are stronger and possess at least basic water survival skills are more likely to survive a natural disaster involving water.
I know of only a few programs that teach water survival skills to at-risk populations. As a nation, Canada leads the pack with it’s Swim to Survive™ program which aims to teach all Canadian children basic swimming skills. The SwimSafe program in SE Asia is one of my favorite programs, targeting the children most at risk in the world. The only program that I know of that was developed specifically to address the high number of women and children who drowned during the tsunami is the Sri Lanka Women’s Swimming Project. A brilliant program, it shows a deep understanding of the culture and the people and should be duplicated in many countries.
What frustrates me to no end is that we in the drowning prevention community are not saturating the news after each of these events telling people that basic water survival classes can save lives. The response has predictably been about emergency response effectiveness, advance warning systems, and removing people from the path of danger, but where is the concerted effort to say ‘it doesn’t have to be this way! People do not have to drown!’ We remain reactive, trying to rescue people, rather than proactive, teaching them how not to become victims in the first place.
What will it take for us to become organized? I fervently hope it is not another disaster, but if it is, I hope we are able to get our act together to respond publicly and use the time when the outcome is fresh in people’s minds to convince people and policy-makers that investing in water survival classes makes economic and humanitarian sense.
If you think we need to teach water survival skills, click here to Tweet ‘@RebeccaSaveKids We need to teach water survival skills to all children http://bit.ly/16kd1If #stopdrowning’