A group of adolescents watch peer jump in river
Young residents of the National Tapajos forest swim in the river to cool-off from the intense heat of the Brazilian sun. Children, who have access to bodies of water are especially at risk of drowning.
Photo:UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Drowning is a leading cause of accidental death

In 2019, an estimated 236,000 people died from drowning, making drowning a major public health problem worldwide. In 2019, injuries accounted for almost 8% of total global mortality. Drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths. 

The global burden of death from drowning is felt in all economies and regions, however:

  • low- and middle-income countries account for over 90% of unintentional drowning deaths;
  • over half of the world's drowning occurs in the WHO Western Pacific Region and WHO South-East Asia Region;
  • drowning death rates are highest in the WHO Western Pacific Region, and are 27-32 times higher than those seen in the United Kingdom or Germany, respectively.
WHO Report

Global report on drowning: preventing a leading killer

The Global report on drowning is the first World Health Organization (WHO) report dedicated exclusively to drowning – a highly preventable public health challenge that has never been targeted by a global strategic prevention effort. This report aims to change that.

World Drowning Prevention Day

World Drowning Prevention Day, declared in April 2021 by General Assembly resolution A/RES/75/273, is held annually on 25 July. This global advocacy event serves as an opportunity to highlight the tragic and profound impact of drowning on families and communities and to offer life-saving solutions to prevent it.

All stakeholders – governments, UN agencies, civil society organizations, the private sector, academia and individuals – are invited to mark World Drowning Prevention Day by highlighting the need for urgent, coordinated and multi-sectoral action on proven measures such as:   

  • installing barriers controlling access to water;
  • providing safe places away from water such as crèches for pre-school children with capable childcare;
  • teaching swimming, water safety and safe rescue skills;
  • training bystanders in safe rescue and resuscitation;
  • setting and enforcing safe boating, shipping and ferry regulations;
  • improving flood risk management.

The new UN General Assembly resolution invited WHO to coordinate actions on drowning prevention within the UN system. In this capacity, WHO leads preparations for World Drowning Prevention Day by producing related advocacy materials, hosting a global launch event and supporting national and local activities in countries and communities around the world. 

 

Logo of World Drowning Prevention Day: Anyone can drown, no one should.

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Did you know?

  • Drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths.
  • There are an estimated 236,000 annual drowning deaths worldwide.
  • Global estimates may significantly underestimate the actual public health problem related to drowning.
  • Children, males, and individuals with increased access to water are most at risk of drowning.

Related Links

Children in water

WHO released major publications on the topic: Global report on drowning in November 2014, and Preventing drowning: an implementation guide in May 2017. At the country level, WHO has worked with Ministries of Health in some low- and middle-income countries to prevent drowning through the use of barriers controlling access to water and the establishment of day care centres for pre-school children. In addition, WHO has also funded research in low-income countries exploring priority questions related to drowning prevention. At the regional level, WHO organizes training programmes and convenes workshops to draw together representatives of governments, NGOs and UN agencies working on drowning prevention.

 

Illustration of a lifebuoy

This guide provides practical steps to reduce drowning – one of the world’s most preventable, neglected and pressing public health issues. Through 10 evidence-based interventions and strategies it is designed to help drowning-prevention practitioners -- from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and researchers to government officials and policy-makers -- approach drowning prevention in a strategic, evidence-based and multisectoral way. It also highlights ways to harness public awareness and engagement to strengthen drowning prevention interventions.

 

A crowd of women sitting and laughing

International days and weeks are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.