The launch of a new United Nations International Decade for Action: Water for Sustainable Development 2018-2028 is an opportune moment to celebrate that water enables the lives and livelihoods of billions of people across our planet, as well as reaffirm our commitments to this urgent and important issue.
But in our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and make the U.N. Decade on Water successful, we must address the issue of water access in the fullest sense — that includes recognition of the realities in which those who are left behind live.
While our focus has been on access to safe water, it is critical to draw the attention of the global community to the need for safe access to water.
Each year, drowning is responsible for more deaths than malnutrition or maternal mortality. It affects the most vulnerable first and worst; almost all of the 360,000 drowning deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Among these, children and young people represent the majority of lives lost. Every other minute, a child loses their life to the water. Drowning is the number one cause of child mortality in many countries across South East Asia and the Western Pacific.
In committing to the SDGs, every country in the world has committed to deliver a set of goals for their citizens by 2030. Ensuring safe access to water will be critical to reducing child mortality and to achieving sustainable development as a whole. Drowning prevention is a forgotten but fundamental enabler to ensure that every child survives and thrives; while insuring investment in nutrition, education, and immunization and providing a set of required survival skills that will protect our future generations.
Drowning is not fate, nor inevitable.
Every life lost to the water is preventable. Simple and scalable solutions, such as survival swimming lessons, community crèches, and flood response skills, can be delivered at a large scale and low cost, saving hundreds of thousands of lives. This is ever-more important with growing exposure to water due to climate change and increased risks of natural disasters, and yet to date, drowning has been absent from political debate and has not received the level of public attention it deserves.
That’s why we have launched the Group of Friends on Drowning Prevention, to mobilize governments from across the geographic and political spectrum to act on this common cause; to ensure that the issue of drowning prevention is recognized and receives resources commensurate with its impact on communities worldwide.
As we enter the Decade of Action on Water for Sustainable Development, we call upon the president of the General Assembly and fellow leaders to recognize the importance of safe access to water alongside access to safe water. If we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and ensure that no one is left behind, inaction is not an option.