Swimming is popular around the world, but in which countries is it the most popular? Have you ever wondered why swimming is popular in those countries and not others? What does access to swim education mean? When we take a look at the swimming world abroad, you’ll see a correlation between the wealth of a nation and drowning statistics. What does this mean and why is it significant?

In the Swimming World: Do You Know What Swimming is Like Abroad?

World Drowning Statistics

There were 302,932 drowning deaths globally in 2016. An approximate total cited by the World Health Organization. Drowning is among the top ten leading causes of death globally. Especially amongst men and children. Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser published, “Causes of Death” in February 2018 in which they gathered available global mortality data and visualized it. Among the data were key insights from the 2016 year pertaining to drownings – on the global scale. This interactive chart displays information by country. Offering a sobering look into which countries experience the most loss due to drowning.

Taking a look at global drowning deaths by age; of those 302,932 drowning deaths, 50,676 were comprised of children under 5 years old. 49,123 were comprised of children aged 5-14 years old. 118,741 were comprised of 15-49 year olds. 50,584 were comprised of 50-69 year olds and lastly, 33,808 were comprised of those in the 70+ age bracket. This means, children alone make up 32.94% of drowning deaths across the globe.

While this graph shows a noticeable improvement over the last century, the rates of drowning deaths among youth around the world are still alarmingly high despite it being a preventable accident. Even though we have this current data, the true scope of the issue is still unknown. This is due in large part to poor data collection systems pertaining to drowning deaths around the world. WHO estimates that the actual annual amount of deaths attributed to drowning could be four to five times more than the current estimate.

What Role does Social Economics Play?

Of the 302, 932 global drowning deaths, 90% occur in lower-mid income countries. For example, in China and Bangladesh, the leading cause of death among children aged 5-14 years old is drowning, accounting for 12,864 and 2,840 deaths respectively. In comparison, the United States accounted for 266 deaths of children aged 5-14. These statistics shed light on a big problem plaguing these nations. A lack of accessibility and education.

High-income countries show rates of long-term decline in drowning deaths. These reductions are likely the result of the provision of clean drinking water, less exposure to open water, better literacy and economic development. Other contributing factors to the decline are safety standards, policies and legislation.

Check out this interactive graph and watch as it changes over time. This visually represents the relationship between drowning death rates and wealth. As the wealth of a nation rises, its drowning rates decline. And vice versa. As nations become more developed, they become better equipped to implement fundamental facilities and systems. Including but not limited to education.

Why are People in Low-Mid Income Countries More at Risk?

There are a number of contributing factors. Most of which are systematic. For one, lack of barriers, close supervision for infants and young children, poor swim skills and low awareness of water dangers increase the risk of drowning. Other risk factors affecting poor communities around the world are transport on water and water crossings, lack of safe water supply, and flood disasters.

Drowning often affects the poorest and least-educated people living in rural settings, and are unequipped or lack resources to safely adapt to the risks around them.

People in low- and middle-income countries that live around water interact with water very differently than those in high-income countries. The level of economic and social development in low- and middle-income countries means exposure to water is riskier. Children under five are more likely to drown in-land and near home. Bathtubs, buckets, ditches, ponds etc pose a drowning risk communities and families aren’t aware of. While older children and adults are more likely to drown in natural bodies of water while working, travelling or collecting water.

Global Drowning Prevention: Accessibility and Education

Thus far, the 20th century has experienced a transition. Early in the 20th century the leading causes of death were communicable and infectious diseases. Now the leading causes of death are non-communicable diseases such as; heart disease, cancers, diabetes and respiratory disease. According to the data, the trend remains true for developing countries. Unlike non-communicable diseases, accidental deaths are easier to prevent. Less reliant on science, technology and medicine, drowning prevention relies on the proliferation of education.

Effective prevention measures include; the teaching of survival swimming, resuscitation skills, supervision (of children and adults alike), removing or covering water hazards, targeted prevention strategies, improved community infrastructure (water supply, bridges, levees etc.) and public awareness. In addition, countries should establish effective policies and legislation. Setting and enforcing safe boating, shipping and ferry regulations are an important part of improving safety on the water and preventing drowning. Building resilience to flooding and managing flood risks through better disaster preparedness planning, land use planning, and early warning systems can prevent drowning during flood disasters.

National strategies for water safety are crucial. They provide water safety awareness amongst populations as well as a means of keeping track of efforts and fosters solution thinking. Smaller nations with lower income brackets need to take steps to improve data collection on drowning mortality and morbidity. Drowning is preventable when people are equipped with knowledge. In the swimming world, we’d like to see swimming education and drowning prevention made more accessible to people around the world.

What Can I Do?

Besides being educated about the importance of water safety and drowning prevention for yourself and your family, if you want to help international drowning prevention efforts here are a few resources for you:

Donate to The Drowning Prevention Charity by Royal Life Saving Society UK. Help their efforts to reduce drowning by donating to their international projects.

Register for the World Conference on Drowning Prevention, taking place in 2023 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Get involved with the National Drowning Prevention Alliance; you can become an international NDPA member, an organizational partner or simply become a part of their local task force.

Become a member, donate or find out how you can support the International Life Saving Federation.

Donate to the Global Drowning Fund by Royal Life Saving Australia.

Find out what’s happening in the swimming world on a global scale and keep an eye out on the blog. Share your thoughts on the topic in the comments below!