Opinion: Drowning is responsible for more deaths than malnutrition. It's time for change.

Village children in Jambi, Indonesia. Photo by: Icaro Cooke Vieira / CIFOR / CC BY-NC-ND

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.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the authors

  • H.E. Nguyen Phuong Nga

    Nguyen Phuong Nga was appointed to post as ambassador and permanent representative of Vietnam to the United Nations in 2014. She is a career civil servant, with past senior roles as deputy minister of foreign affairs between 2011 and 2014 and as ministry of foreign affairs' spokeswoman aka director general, department of press and information between 2007 and 2009. She has held senior appointments in Vietnam’s embassies in Belgium, Luxembourg and its mission to the European Union, Brussels. She was born in Hanoi and holds a master's in international journalism.
  • H.E. Masud Momen

    Masud Momen is the ambassador and permanent representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations and has been in post since 2015. A career civil servant, previously he was ambassador to Japan between 2012 and 2015, ambassador to Italy and permanent representative to the Food and Agriculture Organization, World Food Programme, and International Fund for Agricultural Development between 2008 and 2012.
  • H.E. Luke Daunivalu

    Luke Daunivalu is ambassador and deputy permanent representative of Fiji to the United Nations, having been posted in April 2016. Prior to taking up this appointment, he served as deputy secretary (policy) in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs between 2014 and 2016. From 2010 to 2013, he served as counsellor/deputy permanent representative to Fiji's Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York.
  • H.E. Virachai Plaisai

    Virachai Plaisai is the ambassador and permanent representative of Thailand to the United Nations, having been appointed to his post in 2015. From 2009 to 2015, he served as ambassador of Thailand to the Netherlands, having previously held a variety of international economic, legal, and diplomatic roles for the Thai government. A career diplomat, Mr. Plasai began his diplomatic service in 1987 in his country’s department of political affairs, serving in posts in the department of treaties and legal affairs, eventually becoming director-general of the department of international economic affairs in 2007.