This image, from WorldMapper.org, is a representation of our globe wherein countries are re-sized based on frequency of a set of data. Put simply, in this map, countries with many drowning deaths appear larger than countries that don’t. You can immediately see that the entire United States or European Union could be eclipsed by places like Indonesia, and that the massive continent of Australia (which has had lifeguard programs in place since 1907) looks like an underfed seahorse.


The Problem

Drowning continues to be a leading cause of death and injury around the world.  ALthough it has been estimated that around 400,000 people die from drowning each year around the world, these are gross underestimates due to the fact that they don’t take into account drowning deaths associated with suicide, homicide, and natural disaster and, more importantly, the lowest quality data collection occurs in developing countries, where 97% of drowning deaths are thought to occur.  The events surrounding drowning incidents vary greatly from country to country based on geography and cultural practices.

  • Drowning in the U.S.
    • Leading cause of injury death in children ages 1-4
      • 493 (2005), more than MVAs
    • Second leading cause of unintentional death
      • 3,582 (2005)
  • Drowning globally
    • Third leading cause of unintentional death
      • 400,000+ annually
  • Global statistics are underestimates
    • WHO Global Burden of Diseases
      • On average, quality data from only 64 countries
      • Does not account for deaths due to floods, water transport accidents, assault, or suicide
    • 2007 World Drowning Report
      • Only received data from 16 countries
      • Data collection ranged from coroner’s reports to media
    • Most of the missing data is from developing countries, which account for 97% of global drowning deaths


Working toward a solution

In 2002, a major step in global collaboration was taken when the World Congress On Drowning met in Amsterdam to discuss solutions for decreasing the global burden of drowning.  Out of all of the great work which came out of this conference, the most pivotal was the development of a standard definition for drowning:

The process of experiencing respiratory impairment due to submersion or immersion in a liquid.

The individuals who worked toward developing this definition understood the importance of first agreeing on what exactly the word drowning means so that all of those who are working on the associated problems can have a common understanding of what we are focusing on.  With this definition also came recommendations for simplifying the reporting of mortality and morbidity associated with drowning incidents so that public health efforts can be focused on the major issues instead of minor details.  Establishing a drowning event as a process and not an end point will also continue to play a role in highlighting the importance of a drowning event in the evolution of disease.

More information on this cane found at the following links: