Natural disasters like flooding and tsunamis. Unsafe environments like overloaded ferries or rickety boats. Over-estimating skill and under-estimating the power of unfamiliar water. Alcohol-induced poor judgement. Lack of swimming ability.
We call them ‘accidents’, as if they were unavoidable and random. As if we had no control over the fact. And as a result, drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide – with adults claiming roughly 70% of the toll, according to the WHO.
What is an ‘accident’? According to the dictionary, an accident is:
1. a: an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance
lack of intention or necessity
a. an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance
And yet, what is ‘unforeseen or unplanned’ about being near water when water covers 70% of the earth’s surface and is within walking distance of every human? How does ‘lack of intention or necessity’ play when water is necessary for our daily existence – from survival to work to recreation?
‘Carelessness’ is certainly a problem, but I believe it is a symptom of the true reason that drowning continues to be an unrecognized epidemic. ‘Ignorance’ is the reason that adults drown. Ignorance is the reason that children drown. Ignorance: ‘the condition of being uneducated, unaware, or uninformed’. Ignorance is the anchor around our necks when it comes to water.
Until we focus on raising awareness, on educating people on how to relate to the water safely, ‘accidents’ will continue to happen. We must begin to teach our children about how to be safe near the water to protect them as children, and as adults. Education isn’t glamorous, it doesn’t attract venture capital and sexy new technologies, it doesn’t even yield fast results in our immediate gratification world. Education requires a long-term, gradual, age-appropriate and positive focus. Kind of like living.