Floods in South East Asia highlight the risk of child drowning

International Life Saving federation (ILS) is calling for greater integration of child drowning prevention interventions within country, regional and global disaster risk reduction programs across South East Asia. Drowning prevention programs such as survival swimming and basic lifesaving training for children, resuscitation and basic first aid training for adults, can make a significant difference to community resilience in times of flooding and other aquatic disasters.


International Life Saving federation (ILS) is calling for greater integration of child drowning prevention interventions within country, regional and global disaster risk reduction programs across South East Asia. Drowning prevention programs such as survival swimming and basic lifesaving training for children, resuscitation and basic first aid training for adults, can make a significant difference to community resilience in times of flooding and other aquatic disasters.

According to the UN, more than eight million people have been affected by seasonal monsoon flooding in Southeast Asia, including four million in the Philippines, 2.4 million in Thailand, and 1.2 million in Cambodia. United Nations Secretariat for International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) reported that over 200 children have died in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand out of an estimated total of 745 flood-related deaths. The majority of these deaths are likely due to drowning and with Bangkok and other parts of Thailand facing weeks of inundation to the risk of drowning to children is extremely high.

Drowning and disaster is an issue that the ILS Drowning Prevention Commission has been investigating for some time. It is encouraging that the flooding in South East Asia is prompting some within the disaster reduction sector to question previous investments and programs in the region and to raise questions of drowning prevention strategies.

“(The recent flooding) has underlined shortcomings in disaster risk reduction with many children drowning because they cannot swim, said Jerry Velasquez, Head of the UN’s Bangkok Office for Disaster Reduction, UNISDR. He continued: “We are particularly concerned to learn about the high numbers of children dying in these floods which was a concern raised by children themselves when over 600 were interviewed for the new Children’s Charter on Disaster Risk Reduction which was the focus of International Disaster Reduction Day on October 13.

The disaster reduction sector has made significant advances in coordinating and focusing the efforts of governments, NGO’s and donors over the past decade. Although slow to recognise that drowning prevention may be a key disaster risk reduction issue, there are signs that this may be changing. In acknowledging the International Disaster Reduction Day on 13 October 2011, World Health Organisation (WHO) emphasised that children, especially those under the age of five, are particularly vulnerable to disaster. “Children are more likely to be injured (drown) and be exposed to greater danger through separation from their families or caregivers. In most disasters, between a third and a half of the dead are children, according to a WHO press statement.

Governments across the globe are now rushing to send funds and assistance to the region. In announcing flood assistance, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd stated that the Australian Government would offer $5.5 million to “deliver lifesaving assistance to families affected by the flood crisis in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and the Philippines.

Of course in the disaster response context lifesaving assistance’ has an entirely different meaning to that used within the international lifesaving community. This lifesaving assistance is focused on recovery, minimising the impact of disease and malnutrition in vulnerable displaced populations, and rebuilding the agricultural sector. Most of the contributions made by donors at this time will be focused on mosquito nets, hygiene kits, water containers, kitchen sets and health services.

Beyond the immediate needs of those impacted by these floods is the review and adjustment of disaster risk reduction programs. ILS is urging UN agencies, governments, NGO’s and donors to the region to consider the drowning prevention needs of communities in these reviews. ILS believes that the integration of drowning prevention into risk reduction programs across South East Asia has the potential to save many lives in the regular flooding that impacts the region. It is a widely held view that lifesaving skills have made a significant contribution to the resilience of communities in many of the nations where ILS members have been training community members in CPR, basic and advanced rescue, and survival swimming and drowning prevention for decades.

High levels of child drowning mortality during flooding may also be an indicator of the risks of drowning to children in everyday life. Water is omnipresent in many communities in Asia. Exposure to drowning risk for children is extremely high. Water, whether in ponds, ditches, channels and troughs used in agriculture or in wells and other containers close to the household, poses significant risk to all children even without extreme levels of flooding. The evidence base for prevention strategies is rapidly changing, and it is hoped that within a few years that community based drowning prevention interventions will be common place within the international development sector. These strategies may have benefits in reducing drowning in everyday life, as well as during flooding.

As the global advocate for drowning prevention, the ILS will continue its efforts to raise awareness of the issues of drowning with UN agencies such as WHO, UNICEF and UNISDR in the hope that targeted investments are made to equip communities with drowning prevention skills and systems.

1 Comment on "Floods in South East Asia highlight the risk of child drowning"

  1. Justin Scarr | 27 October 2011 at 6:05 am |

    Check out the article below

    Check out the article below as a continuation of this story.

    Killer Floods Swallow Children Who Can’t Swim

    http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2097836,00.html

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