James Vaughan, IMRF Trustee and International Director of the RNLI, writes about the first ever UN resolution on global drowning prevention and explains what it means for IMRF members and how we can mark the first International Day of Drowning Prevention on 25 July 2021.

The United Nations General Assembly has recently adopted a historic resolution on global drowning prevention, acknowledging it for the first time in the UN’s 75-year history. 

The resolution establishes drowning prevention as an important international issue, recognised by all 193 Member States (countries) of the United Nations.

It sets out a framework of actions that every country should take to prevent drowning.

These range from appointing a national focal point for drowning reduction and having a national plan to sharing lessons learned and recording drowning statistics (the resolution can be read in full at this link https://undocs.org/en/A/RES/75/273).

A global day of recognition for drowning prevention will now also take place annually on 25 July 2021, creating a moment to commemorate the lives of more than 235,000 people that are lost to drowning across the world each year. 

The new resolution has been championed and proposed by the governments of Ireland and Bangladesh and co-sponsored by a remarkable 79 other countries, with support from the RNLI, UNICEF and the World Health Organization.

What Does This Mean for IMRF members?  

It’s a big opportunity to promote our lifesaving work. Having July 25th, each year, as ‘International Day of Drowning Prevention’ provides you, and other organisations connected with water safety, a powerful awareness raising opportunity for maritime SAR and drowning prevention in your own country.

Governments, water safety organisations and the public can come together to recognise the preventability of drowning, and the positive, practical actions that all of us can take to keep individuals, families and communities safe. 

So it’s important to start thinking now about what you will do to celebrate the day this year? Are there other relevant organisations that you can work with such as lifeguarding organisations and swimming associations? What will be the most compelling messages?

Like International Women’s Day and International Day of Climate Action, many media outlets and of course social media will be interested in relevant people stories of drowning prevention.

And then each year going forwards we can learn from each other about what worked and perfect the messaging.

Beyond this specific date, the resolution should also provide an opportunity for your organisation to talk about best practice in water safety and maritime SAR within your country, particularly with government and regulators.

Given that every country in the world has supported this resolution, meaning that your government believes this is the right thing to do, it’s now the right time to ask how your country matches up against the framework outlined by the UN today.

What more needs to be done and what are the priorities? 

This resolution can provide a turning point for our issue.

It’s a powerful way to engage with governments and the public about the tragic numbers of drowning deaths and most importantly, how they can be prevented.

So, get thinking and don’t miss the boat, the 25th July 2021 will be upon us quicker than you might think!

Top tips for celebrating International Day of Drowning Prevention on 25th July this year:

1. In year 1, remember to keep your ideas simple and then build on them in future years.
2. Consider social media activity and/or a press release with a statement from your organisation (or a national water safety coordination group) along with a short video message from your CEO or other drowning prevention leader.
3. Messaging could remember those who have drowned in your country, highlight the achievement by the UN, identify areas for action (in your country), and include any key national asks/or messages of support.
4. Also consider sending letters to members of parliament – from swim schools, lifesaving clubs, search and rescue groups/stations, NGOs, individuals with similar messages.
5. Taking account of your own national COVID-19 restrictions, event ideas could also include:
a. Events at swim schools, lifesaving clubs, SAR stations.
b. Roundtable events (virtual or in-person).
c. Competitions – e.g. for children to design a water safety poster.
d. Press article of local work on the issue in local media.
6. Finally, the WHO will be providing a simple toolkit for messaging so adapt that to reflect national context, priorities and the action you want to highlight. We will provide a link on the IMRF web site when this is available.