Number of drownings falls but alcohol a factor in third of cases

The number of deaths by drowning in Ireland last year was the lowest in over 75 years.

However, alcohol, was a factor in one third of the 91 deaths recorded in 2013.

John Leech, chief executive of Irish Water Safety, said a two-week heatwave in July last year claimed 13 lives.

“Following the widespread media coverage of these deaths, the message did get across and parents and the general public realised the danger and modified their behaviour,” he said.

An average for Ireland had been 135 deaths every year, with three quarters male and the majority of victims adult.

A total of 40 children under the age of 14 have drowned in Ireland in the last 10 years, some in just inches of water.

Irish Water Safety said primary school projects, along with an increased number of lifeboats, lifeguards, and the availability of four search-and-rescue helicopters, are contributing to a fall in drownings.

Another crucial change, Mr Leech said, was the introduction of legislation on the mandatory use of life-jackets at sea.

Meanwhile, in its first report into drowning, the World Health Organisation reported that 372,000 people drown each year globally — or an estimated 40 people every hour.

Drowning is among the top 10 leading causes of death for children and young people, with children under five most at risk. More than 90% occurred in low and middle-income countries, with men twice as likely to drown.

In its global report, WHO called for increased efforts and resources to prevent drowning at community and national levels.

WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan said: “Efforts to reduce child mortality have brought remarkable gains in recent decades, but they have also revealed otherwise hidden childhood killers. Drowning is one. This is a needless loss of life. Action must be taken by national and local governments to put in place the simple preventive measures articulated by the WHO.”

Such strategies include installing barriers, teaching children basic swimming skills, and training bystanders in rescue and resuscitation.

It also advocated better shipping and ferry regulations, flood management and water safety policies at national level.

Dr Etienne Krug, WHO director, said: “Drowning occurs in bathtubs, buckets, ponds, rivers, ditches and pools. Losing hundreds of thousands of lives this way is unacceptable, given what we know about prevention.”

The Irish Water Safety National Awards Ceremony takes place in Dublin Castle today where 35 rescuers, involved in 20 dramatic near-death incidents, will be honoured. Between them they saved 22 lives.

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