28 June 2018

Just one inch of water: The silent drowning epidemic

Drowning is a silent epidemic that claims an estimated 360,000 lives every year, most of them children.

In Asia and the Pacific, water shapes the lives and the livelihoods of its people. From dawn until dusk, life there depends on the rivers and the oceans. But all it takes for a child to drown is one inch of water.

Neps
(17) and his brothers prepare to jump into the river next to their house in
Nadi, FijiPhoto: Zackary Canepari
Neps (17) and his brothers prepare to jump into the river next to their house in Nadi, Fiji

It could be a toddler slipping into a pond while their mother goes about her daily chores, a group of children walking to school through rice paddies, or a community hit by flooding.

In many parts of Asia, drowning is now the leading killer of children over the age of 1. In Bangladesh, more than 40 children drown every day.

This global killer is on the rise. And it’s not getting the attention it deserves.

Brother and sister Reshma (8) and Ridoy (9) are
fishing on floodwaters in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, after a monsoon. Neither of
them know how to swim.Photo: GMB Akash
Brother and sister Reshma (8) and Ridoy (9) are fishing on floodwaters in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, after a monsoon. Neither of them know how to swim.

Anybody can drown, but nobody should

We can prevent drowning. And we must prevent drowning.

There are plenty of proven and tested ways to do this, from putting up barriers to control access to water, to creating day care centres for pre-school children, and teaching survival and swimming skills to school children.

But in order to make these plans a reality, we need political will, action and technical support. We need to make drowning prevention a global priority.

To get this issue onto the international political stage, we are working hard with governments across the world to secure the first ever UN resolution on drowning prevention.

And to raise awareness, we’re organising a photo exhibition at the United Nations headquarters in New York, highlighting the fact that a child can drown in an inch of water. It will feature photographs from three countries with some of the highest drowning rates in the world: Thailand, Bangladesh and Fiji.

The stunning images were shot by acclaimed photographers Zackary Canepari, Poulomi Basu and GMB Akash, who were briefed to capture the ways local communities use and live around the water. The exhibition will be open to the public from Thursday 28 June to Sunday 29 July.

You can see more of the photographs below:

Two
children bathe with their father's elephants in Chumpon Buri, Thailand. The
children cannot swim, so they must hold on tight to the mother elephant.Photo: Poulomi Basu
Two children bathe with their father's elephants in Chumpon Buri, Thailand. The children cannot swim, so they must hold on tight to the mother elephant.
Cox's
Bazar is known for having the longest sea beach in the world, which is often
crowded with tourists and local visitors. Inflatables are known to be one of
the biggest drowning hazards there. Photo: GMB Akash
Cox's Bazar is known for having the longest sea beach in the world, which is often crowded with tourists and local visitors. Inflatables are known to be one of the biggest drowning hazards there.
Local
children arrive back in the village of Laukota, Fiji, and jump off the boat that
takes them to and from schoolPhoto: Zackary Canepari
Local children arrive back in the village of Laukota, Fiji, and jump off the boat that takes them to and from school
Local
children swim in the waves at the beach in Cox’s Bazar, BangladeshPhoto: GMB Akash
Local children swim in the waves at the beach in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
Selim
(13), who can swim, collects water from the shoreline to help provide for his
family in Cox’s Bazar, BangladeshPhoto: GMB Akash
Selim (13), who can swim, collects water from the shoreline to help provide for his family in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

You don’t need to drop in at the UN to see the rest of the photographs. Browse the Just One Inch of Water exhibition online here.

The RNLI is working with global leaders, public health organisations and at-risk communities to help turn the tide on drowning and reduce this staggering loss of life. Find out more about the international work we do.