The first ever World Drowning Prevention Day was marked by the UN on July 25. It was dedicated to the theme ‘anyone can drown, no one should’, a message that I fully support.
With MOAS, the international NGO founded to help migrants in danger during crossings in the Mediterranean, we witnessed the desperate conditions people endured before being rescued at sea.
Often, we saw first-hand the pain of those who had lost their loved ones on previous sea crossings.
#NobodyDeserveToDieAtSea – this is the hashtag launched by MOAS in 2014 on the occasion of our first active search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean.
MOAS is now also involved in water safety projects in the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. It is impossible for me to forget the tragic vision of the bodies extracted from the Naff River and those arriving by sea during the Rohingya exodus following the violent persecution in Myanmar in 2017.
Drowning today remains a persistent threat to the Rohingya and to the Bengali population: it is a risk for children playing in the water holes in the fields, for those who work in the local fishing industry and for those who continue to flee from Myanmar on boats bound for Malaysia, Thailand or neighbouring countries.
Monsoons and cyclones also increase the risk of drowning. In the latest MOAS report, the numbers speak for themselves: about 20 Rohingya refugee children have died from drowning in the last two years in Cox’s Bazar camps, almost one a month. This is an immense tragedy for the families, who have already suffered so much.
Since 2019, with the Water Flood and Safety Training, MOAS has been providing basic water rescue skills to Rohingya refugees and to the local population. I am very proud of the commitment of the MOAS team, of our partners and of the volunteers who support and carry out these activities of fundamental importance.
Policies should ensure safe and legal migration routes for those seeking to flee their lands- Regina Catrambone
The water safety course, however, is only part of the solution. In this regard, the World Health Organisation invites the parties involved – governments, international non-governmental organisations, charities and civil society groups – to work together to mitigate the risks of drowning. It invites the planning and creation of measures such as safety barriers, boats and navigation regulations, educational programmes on water safety, swimming lessons and flood mitigation courses.
With regard to drowning, it is not possible to ignore the culpability of border politics in the absence of safe and legal migration routes that allow people fleeing their lands to reach another country without risking their lives in the hope of a better future.
The reluctance of governments around the world to effectively tackle climate change is also contributing to a resurgence of storms and floods that cause numerous drownings each year.
The recent floods in Germany and Belgium remind us that drowning closely linked to climate causes are not just a risk that affects the most vulnerable populations in the southern hemisphere but that affect each of us.
The establishment of the World Drowning Prevention Day is an important step in creating and spreading awareness of this deadly threat. We can no longer allow children, women and men to lose their lives dramatically in this way. To prevent this from happening, it is necessary for states to develop a broader vision and to adopt an approach in defining policies, different from the ones implemented up to now.
Policies should ensure safe and legal migration routes for those seeking to flee their lands and should promote solidarity with those who live in refugee camps and in low-income countries where, due to ongoing intersecting factors, life conditions continue to worsen. Civil society should not withdraw from its responsibilities from protecting those impacted by climate change.
If we are to prevent further drowning deaths, we need empathy and foresight from our political leaders as well as decisions that help create a world in which no one should be forced to put their life in danger.
For more information on the activities conducted by MOAS and on our #SafeAndLegalRoutes campaign, visit the website: https://www.moas.eu/it.