Turning the tides on child drowning
Rebecca Wear Robinson
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Who Drowns?

by Rebecca Wear Robinson on October 9, 2013

6 seconds6 seconds. That is the current attention span of your audience today.

Wondering how long that is? It’s how long it takes to read those 3 short sentences. No one can make a convincing argument that changes someone’s mind or behavior in 6 seconds. You have to use those 6 seconds to shock them, engage them, entice them to listen to the rest of what you have to say about drowning prevention.

Sound bites. Those snippets of information that shock, awe, engage, entice, that peak the interest of the listener and make them ask you for more information.


One child drowns every minute. 2.3 seconds to say it, it’s my preferred soundbite – and I get a response every single time. ‘Really? Are you sure? I didn’t know!’ – which allows me to toss a few more sound bites their way. Even if I lose them after that I’ve accomplished a goal – they know 100% more about the issue of child drowning than they did 2.3 seconds earlier. I can toss that phrase into any number of conversations.  Trust me, even talking about the school board I can figure out a way to slide in the fact that One Child Drowns Every Minute.

But you’ll need to back that initial soundbite with more info or reach different audiences or argue in different ways. Here is a list of statistics that you can turn into sound bites:

Epidemic of child drowning

  • Drowning is responsible for as many as one out of every four deaths in childhood, after infancy.
  • In SE Asia:
  •      For children ages 1-4, drowning is responsible for almost one out of four deaths from ALL causes (23.4%).
  •      For children ages 5-9, drowning is responsible for more than one out of four deaths from ALL causes (28.3%).
  •      After age 1, drowning is responsible for almost one out of five deaths from all causes (19.8%).
  • Most children drown before age 4.
  • The rate of drowning deaths has remained stable for years. Because progress is being made in communicable diseases, drowning is becoming a larger proportion of all causes of child death.
  • Drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, accounting for 7% of all injury related deaths
  • 96% of drowning deaths occur in low and middle-income countries
  • Children under 5 have the highest drowning mortality rates worldwide. (except Canada and New Zealand where adult males drown at a higher rate)
  • In the U.S., drowning is the leading cause of injury death for children 1-4.
  • More than twice as many children drown in the U.S. than die from cancer, and it’s preventable.

Cost of drowning

  • Drowning has a cost – by the time most children drown, significant investments in health and education have already been made.
  • Coastline drowning cost $273,420,000 in the U.S. in 1997.
  • From 1960 to 2001, the total cost of drowning deaths in the U.S. at USLA identified beaches is estimated to be $4.2 billion.

Lack of data

  • 59% of World Health Organization (WHO) members have no current drowning data to report
  • Child drowning is largely underestimated, by more than 50%.

Positive Impact of Programs

  • Children who learn to swim are protected for life.
  • Children who learn to swim provide ‘herd immunity’ because they can rescue their peers from drowning.
  • The drowning rate for children who attend the creche is 82% lower.
  • The drowning rate for children who participate in SwimSafe is 93% lower.

Where Children Drown

  • Drowning is responsible for almost 9 out of 10 child deaths in floods (Asia).
  • In the U.S., 50-75% of drownings occur in open water – such as oceans, lakes, rivers and ponds.
  • In the U.S., about 60% of drowning deaths among children occur in swimming pools.

In Praise Of Lifeguards

  • The chance of drowning at a beach protected by lifeguards can be less than 1 in 18 million.
  • Most open water drowning occurs when a lifeguard is not present (more than 75%). Swim in areas with a lifeguard.

We need more data and better data, but we have enough to shock, awe and initiate action – if we keep leveraging what we have.

Because if we don’t, then One Child Will Drown Every Minute.

From UNICEF/TASC report – March 2012

WHO – Fact Sheet #347 – Drowning

CDC – Unintentional Drowning: Get the Facts
CDC: Lifeguard Effectiveness: A Report of the Working Group (2001)

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