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Drowning Fact Sheet

We need air to live. We can’t breathe underwater. When water gets into our lungs we drown. Every three minutes a child somewhere in the world dies from drowning. Each year between two and three million children die from drowning. Children under five are most at risk and a small child can drown in only a few centimetres of water.

Children who drown usually drown close to their home. They could be collecting water from the well or the river, washing themselves or their clothes, crossing a river on a bridge or ferry, or just playing in water. Every day children can get into trouble when they are playing in water and come close to drowning.

Here’s what children can do to stay safe in water:

  • NEVER play or swim or go into water alone
  • NEVER jump or dive into water without knowing how deep the water is first – do this by first wading into the water.
  • NEVER leave a small child alone in or near water – even if they are in a bucket or bowl washing themselves they can slip and not be able to get their head out.
  • NEVER push other children into water.


In an emergency:

If you get into trouble in the water shout for help.

If you see someone in the water who has got into trouble find an adult who can help – don’t try and help the person yourself.

  • COVER all wells, cisterns and water tanks–use a good strong, tight fitting lid or strong wire mesh
  • FILL IN ponds, puddles and shallow sitting water that is not used with stones, earth or rocks.
  • FENCE OFF deep or dangerous water, ponds and pools to stop children getting in.
  • WARNING SIGNS can be put up where water is fast flowing or dangerous or where there are obstacles in deep water pools that may trap or injure children
  • SUPERVISE children playing in rivers, lakes and pools
  • SAFETY EQUIPMENT a rope and float can be kept next to places where people wash and swim.

Useful resources

Facts for Life
There are eight messages on injury prevention and message 3 is about drowning. The ‘more information’ will help you understand how the risk of children drowning can be reduced or avoided.

This organization aims to stop children drowning by teaching them survival swimming skills. They say that drowning is a hidden epidemic and the facts they have on how many children drown are shocking. The site has lots of facts and figures about children and drowning. For example:

“During daylight hours, 1 child drowns every 45 seconds in Asia, many swimming unsupervised. Yet this staggering statistic is rarely present in national health surveys.

Drowning, like other injury deaths, is hidden because of the very speed at which it kills — there is no time for hospitalisation.”

They aim to teach basic swimming skills to children and currently have projects in Bangladesh, Vietnam and Thailand.

Child Safe – Drowning
Advice to keep children safe from drowning. Information on how to stay safe in the water at home, in the sea, in swimming pools, in rivers.

Have Fun, Be Safe!
Companion to the World Report on Child Injury Prevention 2008, WHO and Unicef. Available in English, French and Spanish. This is the source for many of the facts and figures here. It includes activities for children and covers all aspects of injury prevention – drowning, burns, falls, road traffic accidents and poisoning.

WHO fact sheet on drowning
This has useful facts that you can use for quizzes and to help raise awareness of the issue of drowning with children.

The WHO have also produced a useful infograph on drowning. It’s not all about children but will be useful to support activities on water safety.