According to the World Health Organization (WHO), drowning is the "[third]-leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths". Drowning is a serious and ignored global public health issue. Given the limited data available on its accurate scale, global estimates may significantly underestimate actual public health problems related to drowning.

At the same time, climate change and increasing global temperatures are already affecting water access for people worldwide, causing more severe droughts, floods and severe weather conditions. 

In a bid to better understand the impact of climate change on global drowning risks, the International Drowning Researchers’ Alliance (IDRA) is developing a position paper based on presentations and discussions held at its ‘Drowning and Climate Change’ conference, which was held in Ireland in June 2022 and will be published later this year.

As part of their research, IDRA will look at examples of how climate change has already impacted drowning figures and provides information about the concern within the maritime search-and-rescue (SAR) and drowning communities about the importance of responding effectively to drowning incidents, particularly in areas at increased risk to flooding.

Professor Joost Bierens, a drowning prevention expert from in the Netherlands and one of the co-founders of IDRA, said, “Underestimating risks, lack of knowledge of the risks and lack of competence, ill-informed thrill-seeking and lack of parental supervision of children are some behaviour characteristics that may increase the risk of drowning or being involved in an accident associated with the water. 

“Significant progress has already been made to improve the safety of those at sea, and most maritime SAR communities have plans and strategies to address this. SAR organisations need to approach drowning through local communities, while the responsibility for managing water risks locally is not only with one organisation,” he added. 

The IMRF's #FutureSAR initiative is looking to identify the key challenges the global maritime SAR industry will face as a result of climate change and propose guidance and best practices that will aid rescue operations in the future.

The initiative is the world’s first SAR industry-wide response to the effects of climate change on the maritime SAR sector as coastal communities, maritime activity and the infrastructure that they depend on are exposed to increasing risks. To find out more, click here: