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160 Climate change: An overlooked threat multiplier for drowning
  1. Rebecca Sindall1,
  2. Thomas Mecrow1,
  3. Ana Catarina Queiroga2,
  4. Christopher Boyer3,
  5. William Koon4,
  6. Amy Peden5
  1. 1Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), Poole, UK
  2. 2EPIUnit Public Health Institute of Porto University/SOBRASA – Sociedade Brasileira de Salvamento Aquático/IDRA – International Drowning Researchers Alliance, Porto, Portugal
  3. 3Center for Health and the Global Environment (CHanGE) and Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, USA
  4. 4School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW Sydney, Kensington, Australia
  5. 5School of Population Health, UNSW Sydney, Kensington, Australia


Background Climate change threatens human health through numerous mechanisms. The World Health Organization describes drowning as an under-recognised threat to public health, and climate change is liable to exacerbate that threat. Nevertheless, there has been little research that considers how climate change acts as a threat multiplier for drowning risk.

Methods Based on the World Meteorological Organization’s climate risks to the Sustainable Development Goals, a literature review was conducted on seven key climate risks linked to drowning. These include heat and cold waves, drought and water scarcity, flooding and tropical cyclones, aquatic ecosystem collapse, damaged infrastructure, displacement, and rising poverty and inequality.

Results Flooding, cyclones and other hydrometeorological hazards have a clear link to drowning deaths, though these deaths are not included in global drowning estimates. Hotter temperatures are expected to result in more recreation-related drowning deaths, and droughts and water scarcity will likely change population risk exposure profiles as access to safe water changes. Similarly, greater risk-taking behaviour is expected by people reliant on aquatic ecosystems for their livelihood, e.g. fishers. Displacement may be linked to transport-related drownings and migrant populations often experience new risk factors at their destination. These risks are exacerbated by growing populations, urbanisation, and rising inequality.

Conclusion Climate change is already impacting drowning and will continue to increase drowning risk exposure and alter risk factors at a local scale. Climate change adaptation and mitigation actions can help reduce drowning risk.

Learning Outcomes Climate change must be considered when developing drowning prevention interventions.

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