Flooding Disaster in Australia highlights drowning burden

The extreme weather events in recent days in Queensland, an eastern state of Australia, highlight the risks to life and property of major flooding events.

More than ten people are dead, including a four year old child who fell from a boat whilst being rescued, and many more are missing presumed dead. Large communities have been evacuated as experts predict further inundation in and around the capital Brisbane.

ILS expresses its deepest sympathies to the people of Australia as they battle that nations worst floods in decades. Whilst flooding is a common occurrence, the impact of events of this size create significant drowning risk to those in areas under threat from inundation, as well as the ongoing risk as waters take time to recede.

Brazilian Authorities have confirmed that ten people died in floods that impacted its largest city, Sao Paulo in recent days. Emergency Personnel have stated that it is the residents of the cities large slums, many located around waterways and storm channels, that are most vulnerable in times of flooding.

Flooding is a global issue. According to data taken from Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) there has been approximately 101 flooding disasters worldwide since January 2010, causing the deaths of over 6,000 people and affecting the lives of 173 million people.

Large scale flooding events in Pakistan, China and the Philippines have not only affected the safety and livelihood of millions but placed significant stress on the resources of donor governments and relief agencies.

These figures do not include the loss of life in everyday flooding events that commonly impact rural regions throughout Asia, Africa and Central America. Flooding is known to impact those most vulnerable, such as children, the poor and the elderly.

It is unclear how the mechanisms and consequences of flooding events differ between high income and low income settings. The UN Strategy for Disaster Reduction provides a framework for all nations and sets out a range of priorities for disaster risk reduction, including the identification and mitigation of areas of risk, the building of systems that support community resilience, and prioritisation of disaster so that national, regional and city based disaster plans are developed, understood and practiced prior to any anticipated event.

The events as they unfold in Australia, a nation with a highly developed emergency management system and a population known for its lifesaving and drowning prevention skills and awareness, offer the international community much in terms of lessons that may assist us in preventing drowning deaths caused by flooding in future years.

CRED has been maintaining an Emergency Events Database EM-DAT since 1988 with the support of the Government of Belgium, United States and the World Health Organisation. Its database can be accessed at www.emdat.be.

A review of the topic of flooding and drowning is planned for the ILS World Conference on Drowning Prevention 2011 in May in Danang, Vietnam.

Justin Scarr, ILS Drowning Prevention Commissioner
Amy Peden, Senior Project Officer, Royal Life Saving Society Australia