11 November 2020

World Conference on Drowning Prevention 2021 in Colombo

  • Sri Lanka has made immense progress in drowning prevention and water safety in recent years
  • Yet, 800+ drowning deaths occur in Sri Lanka each year
  • National Drowning Prevention and Water Safety Plan expected to reduce drowning and drowning related deaths by 10% annually
  • WCDP aims to reduce drowning and drowning-related deaths in the world
  • Australia to assist SL with second Drowning Prevention and Water Safety Report, a new water safety app, development of safety guidelines for beaches and pools and ‘Swim for Safety’ manual
  • WCDP will be biggest UN event Sri Lanka is hosting under Injury Prevention category, with over 800 people representing more than 60 countries set to attend

Sri Lanka Life Saving (SLLS) will host the World Conference on Drowning Prevention 2021 (WCDP) in Colombo from 8-10 October 2021, the organisation revealed at an announcement event at the BMICH on Thursday.

The announcement was made by SLLS in collaboration with Life Saving Victoria (LSV) and the High Commission for Australia in Sri Lanka.

The WCDP will be the biggest UN event Sri Lanka is hosting under the Injury Prevention category, with over 800 people representing more than 60 countries set to attend the conference. 

International Life Saving Federation granting permission to Sri Lanka Life Saving to stage the event in Colombo, following an extremely stringent selection process, underscores that Sri Lanka has made immense progress within the sphere of drowning prevention and water safety in recent years.

Drowning related deaths are the second highest non-disease fatal accident category in Sri Lanka. Over 800 drowning deaths continue to occur in Sri Lanka each year. According to documented records available and stated in the Drowning Prevention Report of December 2014, an average 850 drowning deaths occurred each year between 2001 and 2009.

Kicking off the proceedings, LSV’s Chief Operating Officer and SLLS Adviser Mevan Jayawardena asserted that the numbers had been dropping, with awareness, lifesaving services and training growing. “Annual drowning deaths have reduced on a year-on-year comparison. It’s the work of a whole lot of stakeholders across the board who have made this happen,” he noted.

“In 2009, there were 10 permanent lifesaving points on the beach manned by lifeguards; by 2018 that had increased to 100 dedicated lifesaving points. People are able to go to these points and enjoy the safety offered by SLLS trained lifeguards, who come from the community, forces, police, and a whole bunch of school as well.”

According to Jayawardena, in 2009, there were 200 SLLS internationally certified lifeguards in Sri Lanka; by 2018, that number has grown to over 2,000. 

He added that since 2009, about 500,000 people in the community have been given awareness on lifesaving and how to be safe in the water. 

“It has been no small feat. It has taken many stakeholders and much commitment and dedication. But we still have a problem. Over 800 people drown each year, which includes a lot of children. Enjoying the water in Sri Lanka is one of the most natural things that anyone can do. With basic skills, they can save their lives and help save other lives while enjoying many water activities. There is a lot of work to be done but there is a real opportunity to build on the success of the past years,” he concluded.

International Life Saving Federation Asia Pacific Region President, International Life Saving Federation Vice President and Commonwealth Drowning Prevention UK Executive Director Norman Farmer addressing the gathering said the purpose of the WCDP was to bring together the world’s foremost experts, research, systems and information on drowning prevention, rescue, lifesaving and water safety for exchange, debate and further development in order to reduce death and injuries in water worldwide.

Chief Guest Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka David Holly speaking at the event congratulated Sri Lanka on being selected as the host of the WCDP 2021, terming it a “fantastic landmark” following some “fantastic achievements in the country”.

Noting that 800 deaths a year was too many and even one death was too many, Holly revealed that Australia recorded 249 water-related deaths last year. 

“We, like Sri Lanka, love the ocean. We love getting out there and swimming and I think that’s something that our two countries have in common,” he added, lauding the propagation of lifesaving programs in Sri Lanka and outlining the lifesaving programs carried out by Australia in Sri Lanka.

“I think a challenge that Sri Lanka has going ahead is that more of your country is opening up to tourists. The beaches are beautiful in the east coast. These are new grounds and new areas which tourists will be wanting to visit.”

Listing assistance for Sri Lanka going forward, Holly said: “We are going to assist Sri Lanka in a second Drowning Prevention and Water Safety Report. We are also going to introduce a new water safety app, which gives details of beaches, rivers, lakes and other waterways, to give people knowledge before they get to the area. We are going to be supporting the development of pool safety guidelines at hotels, schools and public swimming pools as well as beach safety guidelines to be mandated by the relevant authorities. We will also help in the development of a ‘Swim for Safety’ manual.”