Turning the tides on child drowning
Rebecca Wear Robinson
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Give a man a fish

by Rebecca Wear Robinson on January 11, 2012

There are two types of drowning. There is drowning in a high-income country and there is drowning in a low-income country. The source is the same. Unintentional submersion in water resulting in asphyxia caused by a liquid entering the lungs. The end result is the same. Death, and if not death than permanent injury. The emotional toll is the same. Devastating grief for parents and loved ones.

And then there are the differences. Most striking is the disproportionate toll. Different organizations estimate that 80%-98% of childhood drownings happen in low-income countries. The Alliance for Safe Children estimates that 95% of childhood drowning deaths occur in Asia, home to two-thirds of the world’s children.

A number of variables contribute to this disproportionate toll. Geography – the simple prevalence of open water. Density in population. Lack of resources.

We can’t do anything about geography or population density, but we can do something about resources. Efforts in drowning prevention are under-funded globally, and are almost certainly disproportionately greater in high-income countries, but we need to be smart about using our resources everywhere. We need to follow the adage, “give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for a lifetime”. Key to this is education across populations, but it also requires action that creates sustainable results. We must teach people how to save and protect themselves, and how to teach others. If the resources we are providing result in transferrable skills, then we have exponentially greater results.

I had a request from the president of one of the Royal Life Saving Society Commonwealth branches a few days ago – to create a web-site specific to their work, including a hosting site. This branch is based in Africa and I know the president, he is a dedicated professional devoted to saving lives and raising awareness in his country. He has partnered with representatives from Swimming Teachers Association UK and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution UK who have volunteered their time and resources to travel to the country and teach local teachers about water safety survival swimming. Raising awareness through technology and teaching the teachers to reach the greatest number of children. It would be even better if each teacher that is trained is then required to teach another 10 teachers. Sounds to me like an economically viable and sustainable plan.

We’ve got the teachers of the teachers (although there is still a huge need if anyone wants to volunteer) but can anyone out there volunteer their time to create a web-site? And longer term, what if there were one (association neutral please) web-site that contained information about all lifesaving and drowning prevention organizations globally? What if each high-income country organization listed had a link to their own site, but paid a very small fee to the master site to fund a basic site for organizations in low-income countries? The internet has made the world much smaller, let’s make it smaller still, and even more powerful. Contact me if you can help. rebecca@rebeccawearrobinson.com

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