This column provides a forum for LIFE LINE readers worldwide to contribute to debate on any relevant SAR issue. Have a look at previous discussions in our Newsletter Archive, online: every Life Line since 2010 is available there for free download. You can join in the debate by emailing [email protected]. It's good to talk!

In this edition we consider the World Health Organization's latest report on drowning, published in mid-November: see "372,000".

372,000, the WHO's best estimate of the number of lives lost to drowning each year, is one of those figures it is hard to imagine. It may help put it into perspective if we say that that number is the equivalent of 1100 fully-laden Boeing Dreamliners crashing without survivors every year. Or nearly 90 Costa Concordias going down with everyone aboard.

Every year. Or, as the WHO say, it may be a more obvious disaster if we think of it as the equivalent of more than 40 deaths per hour, every hour. How long will it take you to read this article? Three minutes? At least two people will have drowned by the time you finish reading.

The chances are that they will be young people. The WHO's statistics show that, globally, over half those who drown are under 25 years old; that drowning is among the ten biggest killers of young people; and that the highest rates of drowning are among children under five.

And the WHO point out that their figures are too low. Data collection in many low- and middle-income countries is limited, and the way deaths are classified means the full extent of the world's drowning problem is under-represented: the statistics exclude deaths resulting from flood disasters and water transport accidents, for example.

But perhaps the worst thing of all is that most of these deaths are preventable. Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, says that "the evidence shows that a range of interventions are effective at preventing drowning. These include the strategic use of barriers to control access to water, provision of safe places such as day care centres for pre-school children, and teaching school-age children basic swimming skills." She also calls for better and more integrated flood risk management; improved boating, shipping and ferry regulations; and development of national water safety policies.

Not everyone who drowns unnecessarily is within reach of the maritime SAR community – but many thousands are. As remarked elsewhere in this edition of LIFE LINE, we're all in this together. The IMRF's primary concern may be with saving lives on open waters, but we share our lifesaving aim with others.

A global partnership is required to tackle this global problem. The IMRF and our members are in discussion with other organisations such as the International Life Saving Federation (ILS), the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh (CIPRB), Plan UK, Safe Kids Worldwide and Lifesaving Society Canada. We want to work together to make drowning prevention a global priority and to create a plan for concerted and united action, worldwide. Together, we can make a huge difference.

To understand the true scale of the issue, more information is needed and better recording of data is vital. We believe that the solutions are relatively simple and inexpensive once the problem is properly understood at the local level. As a minimum, each country should have a national drowning prevention strategy, underpinned by a range of practical, effective programmes and interventions.

Wholeheartedly joining with our partners in welcoming the WHO's call for action on drowning worldwide, the IMRF would draw particular attention to the loss of lives in low- and middle-income countries – where the WHO's figures show the problem to be most acute – among artisanal fishermen and the users of water transport, including ferry passengers, and to the continuing severe loss of life among asylum-seekers and migrants attempting to cross seas, lakes and rivers to safety.

The IMRF exists primarily to help improve maritime SAR services around the world, and this remains a necessary task. But, as our CEO Bruce Reid says in the article "372,000", tackling the drowning epidemic also requires improving safety, through education, information, and the effective implementation of safety standards. "Almost all water presents a drowning risk," says the WHO's Dr Etienne Krug; "Losing hundreds of thousands of lives this way is unacceptable, given what we know about prevention."

It is unacceptable. The IMRF is committed to working with our partners to address the issues the WHO report has highlighted. We urge wide dissemination and consideration of the report, which you can find on the WHO's website, at See Member Focus, too.

The World Health Organization (WHO) 2020

The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2020 estimates that 320,000 people drown every year.

Drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths.

Global estimates may significantly underestimate the actual public health problem related to drowning.

Many of these deaths could be prevented by improved maritime SAR services, which is why the work of the IMRF is so important.

Read more on the World Health Organization (WHO) Website.