The Blog

World Humanitarian Summit: Drowning ... In Silence

The image of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler washed ashore on a Turkish beach, is one of the most resonant of our times. A picture that changed the picture; challenging policy and altering public perception. A literal, and lasting, marker in the sand for leaders attending this week's World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.

Aylan drowned. His was a wasted life. One of many thousands lost, and forgotten, in recent years on the Aegean, the Mediterranean, the Bay of Bengal. Sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, friends; desperately seeking better lives and, as determined by international law, able to rely on rescue at sea.

Whether man-made or natural, disasters equal drowning. In major floods, 75% of deaths are due to drowning. And beneath the humanitarian headlines, in the poorest countries and communities, the sheer drudgery of daily life results in 40 drowning deaths every hour.

The magnitude of this mortality, an estimated 372,000 deaths per year, deserves action from the international community. Instead the issue itself drowns, in silence.

The World Humanitarian Summit, offered an opportunity for change; "to stand up for common humanity, and take action to prevent and reduce human suffering". To recognise that together, we can prepare for, and prevent, one of the largest causes of loss of life in disasters.

Sadly, in a crowded space, of 6,000 delegates, and a stretched agenda, intended to discuss the needs of the 150 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, drowning did not loom large on the agenda. Preventing drowning deaths wasn't the subject of political statements. Preparing for disaster drowning wasn't the rationale for high-level roundtables.

And yet there is cause to be optimistic; the Summit signalled a shift, from response to resilience. Now, just 0.4% of global aid is spent on disaster risk reduction. If words are matched with deeds, over the coming years we'll see scaled-up investment in communities' ability to prepare for crises. More recognition of the need and benefit of preparing, planning for and, ultimately, preventing some of the worst impacts of disasters. Drowning must feature here; with formal inclusion of the simple, scale-able solutions that have the potential to prevent thousands of deaths each and every year.

The appetite for action on drowning prevention is growing, from community projects to government strategies - the RNLI, and partners from across the world, are now coming together to take a stand, and find solutions, to end this 'silent epidemic'. We invite you to join us.

For Aylan, and the forgotten, but equally tragic, 200,000 young lives lost to the water each year not to be in vain, we must now begin to recognise drowning prevention as a priority, for humanity.