At Nile Swimmers, we know that access to water is a key issue in drowning risk, as is living in a flood-prone area. In late 2017, we worked with UNICEF to carry out community risk mapping in flood-prone communities in White Nile State and West Kordofan. This highlighted that droughts, floods and water pollution all have the ability to affect a community’s level of water safety.
Today (22nd March) is World Water Day and this year’s theme is Nature for Water. Environmental damage and climate change drive water-related crises around the world, including floods, droughts and water pollution. When we degrade our natural environment we make it harder to provide everyone with the water needed to survive.
It seems obvious that floods are linked to drowning – the majority of deaths during a flood are drowning deaths. But there are more subtle links between water availability, water-related natural hazards (such as droughts and floods) and drowning. In many of the villages that our risk mapping teams visited, the availability of clean water depends on a number of boreholes. In droughts, boreholes can dry up. Then people look for other water sources such as ponds, which often present greater drowning risks.
When villages flood, not only is their water supply affected but they may also be completely cut off from the outside world. That includes access to markets and medical centres. In that situation, communities have no choice but to cross dangerous flood waters using whatever means they have available to them. It’s easy to see how wading into flood water, or boarding over-loaded or poorly constructed boats can lead to drowning deaths.
On this World Water Day, we encourage you to think outside the lifeguarded swimming pool where you may normally be exposed to water and the associated risks of drowning. 91 % of fatal drownings take place in low- and middle-income countries and if we want to reduce the drowning rate in these countries, we need to start thinking about wider risk reduction strategies, whether that is in times of disaster or in day-to-day community life. Nile Swimmers is looking at how it can work more closely with disaster risk reduction specialists, water and sanitation (WASH) experts and others in fields that are more related to drowning prevention than we might initially realise. If you work in a field that has a link to drowning, we’d love to hear from you. Please comment below.