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The aquatic environment is perfect for practicing countless activities with objectives such as improving health, developing physical condition, competing, exercising a profession, having fun or simply cooling off.
With the arrival of the high temperatures of summer, many people decide to spend their free time on the beaches and swimming pools. Unfortunately, if governments and people do not take appropriate action, it can become a dangerous environment.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), drowning is the third leading cause of accidental death on the planet. Every year more than 236,000 people die from this cause in the world. 90% of all these losses occur in low- and middle-income countries.
In the Western Pacific Region, drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages five to fourteen. In countries like Bangladesh, it accounts for 43% of all deaths among children aged one to four years.
Ultimately, its population is exposed to the influence of bodies of water that lack the necessary infrastructure to prevent involuntary access to water and mitigate the effects of floods or floods. For example, from dikes, dams, barriers or pipelines.
In these areas, many people drown daily when crossing mighty rivers without safe bridges or when traveling or working on precarious boats, poorly equipped and overloaded with people who cannot swim and without life jackets.
In rich and poor countries alike, people living in marginalized environments are particularly affected by drowning. Many of them do not have access to education to develop the necessary skills to avoid it. In addition, in basic education, which they do have access to, these competencies are not usually prioritized.
Consequently, when these people voluntarily or accidentally access the water, they are completely unprotected against drowning.
It is a matter of social justice that governments ensure that the entire school population acquires knowledge that will prevent drowning.
Until all educational authorities decide that being able to survive in water is as essential as knowing how to read, write or calculate, some of the most effective measures to avoid drowning should be disclosed.
1. Bathe in aquatic spaces guarded by lifeguards
According to the Royal Spanish Federation for Rescue and Lifeguard (RFESS), in Spain, from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2020, at least 2,484 people died of drowning. Of these, 2,058 (82.85%) drowned in an unguarded aquatic space.
Undoubtedly, the preventive and informative work of the first-aid staff reduces the number and danger of carelessness committed by users. In addition, the public should know that performing a water rescue can be a very dangerous maneuver. Especially if the person who carries it out lacks the required education and training.
Every year we must mourn the deaths of people who drowned alongside those they were trying to rescue. Therefore, if you witness a drowning, you should notify the lifeguard, who has mastered basic life support and water rescue techniques.
From the point of view of prevention, selecting guarded aquatic spaces is as recommendable as fastening the seat belt before starting to circulate with the car.
2. Watch out for those who may have difficulty in the water
Anyone can be a victim of drowning. However, people who have difficulties in the water, such as young children and the elderly or people with disabilities, must be constantly monitored by an adult. Also if they have cuffs, inflatable rings or mats: they can lose them or slide through them.
In the case of the little ones, they must also be watched when they roam around the bathing areas. Above all, if there are no barriers that prevent their access to water.
3. Avoid bathing under the influence of alcohol and drugs
Drugs and alcohol are linked to drowning in youth and adults. Its consumption reduces the perception of risk and the ability to swim and function safely in the water.
Those who use these substances in areas close to the aquatic environment can be victims of drowning. This is due to the greater likelihood of accidents, such as accidental falls into the water from walkways, piers or boats and the lower ability to resolve them.
Drownings are also frequent among people who, after drinking alcohol or drugs, “voluntarily” access water with a highly distorted perception of their abilities and the risks they take.
That said, it is paradoxical that the consumption of alcohol before and during the bath is socially accepted. Even promoted by advertisements. Perhaps preventive campaigns should be developed with messages such as: “If you drink, don’t bathe.”
4. Avoid reckless behaviors. Pay attention to the flags and informational posters of the aquatic space
According to the RFESS, in Spain, of the 2,484 people who drowned from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2020, 1,968 were men (79.22%).
It seems that, in general, they are exposed more time to water and adopt riskier behaviors. Among others, working without safety devices, swimming or diving alone, straying too far from the shore, diving in areas of unknown depth, abruptly entering cold waters, etc.
Both on beaches and in swimming pools it is important to pay attention to the flags, informational signs and the public address system. For example, if the red flag is flying, bathing is completely off limits to everyone. Also for those who “swim very well” or disagree about the danger of the sea state.
5. Learn to swim as soon as possible and improve your safety in the water
Teaching school children basic knowledge of swimming, water safety and life saving lowers the risk of drowning and is feasible. Governments must ensure that their entire population has access to this type of training.
Teaching aquatic culture and teaching aquatic sports and activities in compulsory education is a fantastic opportunity to improve the safety of students and their immediate environment. For example, rescue and first aid is a solidarity sport that saves lives and educates in the values of the Olympic ideology.
6. Claim your right to be safe on the water
The population has the right to benefit from ambitious measures to prevent drowning, at the state and international level.
This serious problem is not solved by adopting partial or local solutions. It is necessary to create general regulations that regulate issues such as the creation of safe aquatic spaces, the training of lifeguards, the standardization of aquatic safety signs or the preparation of statistics that detail the causes of drowning.
It is also necessary to promote the development of research, devices and preventive campaigns that help reduce drowning.
In short, to avoid drowning, more aquatic education and more prevention!
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.
Ismael Sanz Arribas does not receive a salary, nor does he carry out consulting work, nor does he own shares, nor does he receive financing from any company or organization that can benefit from this article, and has declared that he lacks relevant links beyond the academic position cited.