“Every year around 20,000 people die from drowning in Europe. It appears to be only a small fraction of the world’s total burden, but it’s still the second leading cause of death for children between the ages of 5 and 14.” It’s the warning before Hans KlugeWHO (World Health Organization) Regional Director Europe, who warns: “These deaths are entirely preventable.”

According to WHO estimates, at least 236,000 people die by drowning worldwide every year. I say ‘at least’ because those numbers represent involuntary drowning. Because of the nature of the classification, they do not include drowning events related to water transportation, environmental disasters, self-harm, or bodily harm. This actually underestimates the global burden of drowning by 30 to 50 percent.”

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The eastern countries are more at risk

The issue will be raised on the eve of the World Day for the Prevention of Drowning proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly, with a focus on prevention. “Drowning is also a crucial equity issue, as mortality rates vary twenty-fold across the 53 countries in the European region, with countries to the east generally having higher rates,” Kluge noted in a statement.

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The accidents

“Most of us rarely, if ever, think about the fact that drowning is a public health hazard with significant implications,” argues Kluge. “But events such as the recent capsizing of the small fishing vessel Adriana in the waters between Greece and Italy, carrying hundreds of people looking for a new life in Europe, change perspective. In this single disaster, more than 600 people drowned altogether; most bodies are never recovered. Far more commonly, however, men, women and children drown silently and alone in various ways.” Situations such as jumping unsupervised into an unfenced backyard pool, being caught in a current, sailing or other activity without the protection of a life jacket, falling into the water on the way home alone. The variations are endless.

Most exposed men in Europe

The epidemiology of drowning in the WHO European Region also differs significantly from that in the rest of the world. “Mortality from drowning among men aged 30 to 49 is the highest of all six WHO regions. This reflects the fact that drowning is associated with aquatic recovery rather than survival,” he adds. hypoxic brain damage with lifelong consequences.”

alcohol and drowning

Europe also has the highest alcohol consumption per capita of any WHO region. And alcohol is causally linked to 26% of all drowning deaths in Europe. Last but not least, Kluge continued, “we have the migration crisis and its connection with drowning. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Missing Migrants Project, around 34,000 people have drowned in the course of migration since data collection began in 2014.” This represents 60% of all recorded migration-related deaths and “of these, almost four in five – 76% – occurred in the Mediterranean Basin and the English Channel, both within the WHO European Region.”

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But Kluge says there are also signs that drowning is moving up the health and safety agenda. “In May 2023, the World Health Assembly passed a landmark resolution on drowning prevention, supported by 72 countries, including 42 from the European region.” Based on this new information, WHO will offer guidance and practical options to help countries do even more,” said Kluge. Goal: to draw constant attention to this phenomenon, not only when “the recent mass tragedy falls short in the headlines”.

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