Accidental Drowning: The Leading “Killer” for Children under 14

  • The underestimated fact of drowning


On August 8, 2019, cries of wailing filled up the sky of a small village in Henan Luoshan County – six children just died of drowning while they were playing in a pond near home, the youngest child among which was only six years old (Sohu News, 2019).  Nearly at the same time, on the other side of the world, a 30-year-old man was also found dead in a pool on the Caribbean Princess cruise ship from the United States to Mexico (Walker, 2019). Again, accidental drowning was the cause of this young man’s death, induced by carelessness or drunkenness while he was walking along the pool.


According to World Health Organization (WHO)’s statistics, drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional death around the world, counting for 7% of all injury-related deaths (WHO, 2021). It estimates that there are around 23600 drowning deaths annually worldwide. Moreover, many unreported suburban cases are often neglected by such global estimates, thus underestimating the actual number of death incidents related to drowning. For instance, the statistics reported by the Ministry of Health of the People’s Republic of China has shown that China has 57000 deaths of drowning annually, which has already outweighed the estimated number provided by the WHO (Ministry of Health, 2019).


Sadly, 156 people die because of drowning every day in China. Among them, 88 are children or teenagers, who make up 56.04% of all victims of drowning death cases. Behind each death number, there are cries from people – their families, friends, or lovers – just like the cases mentioned at the beginning. Hence, we should never let these large numbers desensitize us, and the seriousness of such brutal realities can never be emphasized too much.




  • What is drowning and why everyone must be cautious

Scientifically, drowning is defined as “the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid” (WHO, 2021). In other words, any places with water (or other liquid) can be potentially dangerous places, as long as the liquid level is higher than a person’s nose and mouth.


Also, drowning can happen to anyone, whether you are infants or elders, athletes or disabled; here, we want to introduce the term “water competence”, coined by Langendorfer and Bruya in 1995, as now been adapted to the discussions around drowning preventions (Langendorfer & Bruya, 1995). It stresses that a person with “swimming skills” alone does not mean that they also have a great water competence to survive drowning. To be more specific, “water competency” refers to a broad spectrum of physical, cognitive, and affective competencies in a situation vulnerable to drowning. Therefore, drowning prevention training is essential because it offers survival skills such as “jellyfish floating” for self-saving (as described in detail by the video) and shows the correct mentality for one to avoid panic and distress in emergent situations. Panic or ignorance can only lead to exhaustion and death more quickly.




  • General approaches of prevention


Nowadays, the ways to prevent drowning can be generally divided into three categories:

  1. community-based supervisions, especially for children, disabled people, and the elderly;
  2. effective policies and legislation. Such as pool fencing, boat use enforcements, flooding preventions, and developments of early warning systems;
  3. beforehand education. It should be undertaken in a safe training area, with a safety-tested curriculum and an appropriate student-instructor ratio.



What should be noticed here is that, to achieve the best result of prevention education, the teaching contents and associated pedagogies should be adopted based on different targeted communities, geographical benefits or pitfalls, and local evidential feedback. For example, some more dangerous aquatic environments, such as open ponds with many hidden water plants, require more on-site risk appraisals than other areas.


Also, when the related information is addressed to the public, the instructors should always develop different teaching strategies based on the targeted groups of education. For instance, when teaching young children water safety topics, making the topics intriguing and impressive is one thing instructors need to consider. Therefore, in drowning prevention teaching curricula, what is taught, when it is taught, and how it is taught always need to be tailored based on different conditions.




  • Peaceland Foundation’s Project

In order to maximize the effectiveness of drowning prevention education, Peaceland Foundation’s education projects in China have specifically focused on a “standardization & localization” model from 2019.  While the procedures of teaching and training are strictly following the worldwide standards, the teaching contents are well locally designed. For example, in Guiyang, there are many caves underground that are connected. This geographical form will produce a siphon phenomenon, which will easily suck people away with a great force. Hence, it requires rescuers and survivors to use tools around flexibly, such as ropes, long bamboo poles, kayaks, etc. Also, to avoid these education classes being ideas on paper, the professional trainers use personal experiences, emotional stories, and practical activities to form bonding with students and parents. These strategies have greatly helped the public to take in the prevention knowledge. By July 20, 2020, Peaceland Foundation has already organized over 500 drowning prevention education events in 23 cities in China, covering around 200,000 people.


All in all, a thorough drowning preventive system requires a multi-faceted construct, which consists of community awareness, effective supervisions (both interpersonally or legislatively), and tailored teaching of innovative survival tactics. It is time to move beyond the traditional thought that “a person who can swim can survive from drowning”, and to keep the door open for more future research on drowning preventions. Only in this way can we finally gain more dynamic views on water competence and develop better drowning prevention education systems, so as to uphold the level of water safety for all.



Link of our training video of child drowning prevention program: 


Author: Sijia Zhong     Editor: Ling LI




Langendorfer, S.J., & Bruya, L.D. (1995). Aquatic Readiness: Developing Water Competence

in Young Children. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Ministry of Health of the People’s Republic of China. (2019). China Health Statistics Yearbook

2019 (translated).年中国卫生健康统计年鉴.pdf

Sohu News. (2019). Six children died of drowning in Xinyang, the youngest among which was

only five years old. Sohu News (translated).

Walker, J. (2019). Passenger drowns on Caribbean Princess. Cruise Law News.

World Health Organization. (2021). Drowning.