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Sri Lanka will be introducing a national policy for drowning prevention, the second most common cause of accidental death after traffic incidents in Sri Lanka. This effort is being led by the Office of the Chief of Defense Staff (OCDS) on the instructions provided by the President. The main task of the OCDS will be coordinating with the institutions involved in drowning prevention activities, who are currently working in isolation, and guiding them towards a holistic, national approach to address the issue.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) global report on drowning published in 2014, Sri Lanka stands at 12th out of 61 countries in terms of deaths recorded, and 10th out of 35 low and middle income nations. It is estimated that at least 850-1,000 die per year and these deaths are avoidable!

Among the institutions presently involved are Sri Lanka Life Saving (SLLS), Sri Lanka Police, Civil Defense Service, Coastguard, Army, Navy and Air force along with many other civil society organizations. Recent discussions clearly reflected that “What we require is to put them all together. Everybody in the country is well aware of why we need this so the idea is to pool resources and have a national action plan.

One of the key activities would be to have awareness sessions that build a culture where people will be encouraged to swim between flags, to be aware of signage, educating them on how to do their own risk assessment before they get into water. They are further encouraged to look for a lifeguard if they are unfamiliar with the area. The rest of the activities would be; delivering swimming and water safety education, communicating and managing information pertaining to water safety, providing lifesaving and water safety services, conducting water safety research and development, maximising economic benefits for tourism through safe water-related or recreational activities and developing regulations for governance of water safety and drowning prevention.

To execute the above, a national governing entity for drowning prevention and water safety will be formed, a surveillance system will be developed, a risk profile for the country will be introduced, swim-for-safety curriculum will be further improved whilst harnessing pool and beach safety operations guidelines.

Since Sri Lanka has a huge and effective workforce from the defence sector, they will be used and provided with a rescue tube instead of a weapon. Besides, as they have a footprint across the country, it is expected that both monitoring and execution of activities could easily be undertaken by them.

If we can train more and more lifesavers, more and more lives will be saved. We will not stop there. This has to be a tradition and way of life.

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