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Kingdom’s drowning toll ranked 12th globally: WHO

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Children playing in the Mekong River on May 30. Heng Chivoan

Kingdom’s drowning toll ranked 12th globally: WHO

Accidental drowning remains a major public health challenge for the Kingdom, according to Mary McCabe, country director for Helpcode Cambodia, an international NGO that has been implementing water safety and drowning prevention programmes in the country since 2018.

McCabe raised the issue on July 25 while leading a team from Helpcode to teach basic knowledge about how to prevent drowning risks to children and tourists in the coastal area of Sihanoukville on World Drowning Prevention Day under the theme “Do one thing to save lives from drowning”.

McCabe told The Post that with the majority of people in Cambodia, including children, living in environments where there is an abundance of water all around, drowning is a constant and ever-present danger.

“Anyone can drown, but few people think it could happen to them. This is why hundreds of thousands of people die from drowning globally every year,” she said.

The WHO’s assessment is that most of these deaths are preventable through better monitoring of conditions and through the installation of water access barriers or other safety infrastructure.

Other solutions suggested by the World Health Organisation include providing a safe place away from deep water for younger schoolchildren to receive swimming lessons and to teach older children safe rescue techniques.

Identifying and enforcing safe boating solutions, stricter regulation of commercial ferries and improved flood risk management were also recommended.

Helpcode is currently cooperating with the Preah Sihanouk provincial Department of Education, Youth and Sport to run its programmes there.

McCabe said that by the end of this year, her organisation will have provided water safety and first-aid training to 3,000 children and taught 200 children how to swim for survival purposes in various communities in Preah Sihanouk and neighbouring Kampot.

“Our organisation is continuing its mission to prevent drowning and to keep Cambodian children and their families safe and happy in and around the water,” she said.

Over three consecutive days from July 18-20, six people drowned in Cambodia, including two in Siem Reap province and one each in Preah Sihanouk, Kampong Thom, Kampong Chhnang and Battambang. In June, six children drowned in ponds and streams throughout the country.

Soth Kimkol Mony, spokesman for the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM), called on people living in the lowlands along the rivers, lakes, creeks and in coastal areas to be cautious and alert to bad weather during the rainy season as extreme levels of flood danger are possible in those areas.

“Parents need to take care of the safety of their family members and children, especially young children, pregnant women and the elderly, by advising them to stay away from water,” he said.

He also called on all relevant authorities, especially the armed forces, to be ready to rescue people affected by the floods using all means available to rescue those who are stranded to reduce the death toll from floods this year.

Ros Soveacha, spokesman for the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, called on students, teachers, educators, parents and all stakeholders to be vigilant this rainy season and to continue to implement safety measures to prevent accidents such as drowning.

He said the education ministry continues to pay close attention to the weather situation based on official meteorological forecasts and reports and the disaster management team for the education sector would continue to cooperate as in previous years with the board of education and local authorities directly to prepare for interventions due to floods as necessary.

“The education ministry continues to welcome positive cooperation from all stakeholders on measures to prevent and respond to the effects of floods and flash floods in schools to prevent accidents,” he said.

World Drowning Prevention Day is a global advocacy event held annually on July 25 to highlight the tragic impact of drowning on families and communities. A plan for drowning risk prevention was officially recognised by the UN in April, 2021.

This year the WHO released a report indicating that drowning kills 236,000 people each year and is one of the leading causes of death among both children and adults aged 1 to 24 worldwide.

It said more than 90 per cent of drowning deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. In Cambodia, there were 1,113 drowning deaths last year which accounted for 1.24 per cent of the total deaths in Cambodia.

These figures put the Kingdom’s ranking at 12th highest in the world for its number of drowning deaths.

“These deaths are often associated with daily activities such as bathing, collecting water for domestic use, boating and fishing. The effects of seasonal weather events, including monsoons, are also frequent causes of drowning,” said the WHO report.

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