Representational Image. Image Courtesy: India Today
There were 83 deaths due to drowning every day in India in the year 2018, according to the Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India (ADSI) report published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) earlier this month. However, in a country full of unguarded ponds, lakes, and rivers, the government has not come up with any policies like barriers around water bodies, safety lessons in schools, and safe boating laws, to prevent drowning accidents.
In the year 2018, there were 29,696 incidences of drowning, resulting in deaths of 30,187 people. Out of these, 258 deaths were caused by capsizing of boats, 19,939 deaths were caused by accidental fall into water bodies, while 9,990 cases were caused by unspecified causes. Drowning (7%) was the third major cause of all accidental deaths reported in India, after traffic accidents (43%) and sudden deaths (11%). Accidental fall into water bodies made up for 66% of the drowning deaths in 2018.
However, according to experts, even these large numbers may be highly underestimated. According to a report published by the Lancet in December 2019, there were about 62,000 drowning deaths in India in the year 2017. This was nearly twice of all (30,279) drowning deaths reported in ADSI 2017. The rate of years of life lost (YLL) by drowning were highest in the central states of Madhya Pradesh (MP) and Chhattisgarh, and the northeastern state of Assam, accounting for 11% of all drowning deaths, the Lancet report said.
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“Thirty-thousand drowning deaths a year is [a] highly under-reported figure,” Rear Admiral (Ret) Purushottam Dutt Sharma, founder and president of the Rashtriya Life Saving Society (India), a non-governmental organisation that provides educational programmes in operational safety, first aid and resuscitation, told IndiaSpend. The figure could be over 100,000, including those which are unreported and those registered as accidents, as drowning is rampant across the coastline and river-side settlements, he estimated.
He told IndiaSpend that when a bus or a truck falls into a river, it is called an accident and not drowning. At times, drowning due to a boat capsizing is categorised under accidental deaths. These are some of the reasons for the underestimation of drowning deaths. “Nearly 70% of the country lives in villages and small towns having water bodies like ponds, lakes, rivers and reservoirs, most of which are unprotected, unguarded and unsupervised, leading to drowning incidents,” he said, adding that people are unaware of life-saving skills essential to save people from drowning.
“Drowning also happens to be an easy way for murdering people,” Sharma said. He said that police are reluctant to register drowning cases as they are difficult to solve, especially in rural areas. Even in urban areas, only cases covered by the media are reported, he added. “Lifesaving is an important concept, but our country has taken a long time to realise this. We do not have a central policy or authority to form policy on drowning prevention and safety,” the report quoted Sharma.
ADSI 2018 said, “Large number of deaths due to ‘Drowning’ were reported from Madhya Pradesh (4,542 out of 30,187) accounting for 15.0% of such deaths. Maximum number of deaths due to ‘Poisoning’ were reported from Madhya Pradesh (4,300 out of 21,646) accounting for 19.9% of such deaths.”
About 360,000 people died from drowning across the world in 2015, making it the third leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths in the world, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported in January 2018.
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