New Delhi: Drowning claims the lives of 372,000 people each year and is among the 10 leading causes of death for children and young people, according to a new report by the World Health Organization.
The WHO report said that globally, over half of all drowning deaths were among those under 25 years, the highest rates for drowning are among children under five years and males are two times more likely to drown than females.
The report said more than 90 percent of drowning occurs in low and middle-income countries, with the highest rates in the African, South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions.
It called for a substantial scaling-up of efforts and resources to prevent drowning and outlines several actions to be taken by both national policy-makers and local communities, all of which could save many young lives.
"Efforts to reduce child mortality have brought remarkable gains in recent decades, but they have also revealed otherwise hidden childhood killers," WHO Director General Margaret Chan said.
The WHO report advocated strategies for local communities to prevent drowning. These include installing barriers to control access to water, providing safe places such as day care centres for children, teaching children basic swimming skills and training bystanders in safe rescue and resuscitation.
At the national level, the interventions advocated were adoption of improved boating, shipping and ferry regulations, better flood risk management and comprehensive water safety policies.
Alarmingly, according to a number of studies from high-income countries, deaths due to drowning may be considerably underestimated.
Official data do not include drowning from suicide, homicide, flood disasters or incidents such as ferry capsizes.
"I believe that you can't manage what you don't measure - and there's never been a comprehensive effort to measure drowning around the world until now," said Michael R. Bloomberg, three-term mayor of New York City and founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which funded the report.
The report describes drowning prevention projects in a number of low and middle-income countries, including those where rates of drowning are high, for example, in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, The Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
It recommends that such efforts should be systematically implemented and monitored in order to identify best practices and bring those which are most successful to scale.