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More Kenyans are drowning every year

By Isaac Kalua | Nov 23rd 2014 | 2 min read

River Tana flows more than one thousand kilometres from Kenya’s central highlands to the Indian Ocean. Along the way, it provides electricity through hydroelectricity dams like Masinga and supports agriculture for millions of Kenyans.

However, three weeks ago, this river of life became an agent of death. A 28-year-old lady in Kirinyaga County fell into the river and drowned. A few days later, two students from Maasai Mara University also drowned in the Enkare Narok River.

The three young people join the sad global statistics of 40 people who drown every hour. A recent report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) further reveals that over half of all drownings are among those aged below 25 years. In addition, drowning kills more children than measles or tuberculosis!

Africa has the highest estimates of drowning cases in the world, although drowning data is not readily available in most African countries. This is in itself quite tragic because governments are unable to take informed action that minimises and eradicates drowning.
When a boat capsized in River Nzoia in August, killing at least eight people, the tragedy attracted media attention for several days culminating in a presidential visit. For every such visible drowning incident, dozens others go unreported.
Apart from Tana and Nzoia, nearly every river in Kenya has at one time or another been an agent of death through drowning. Many rivers where people have drowned are small rivers mostly known to locals, like Suam River in Pokot, River Seya in Samburu and River Mutendea in Kitui.

Drowning in Kenya also occurs in dams, swimming pools, lakes, the ocean, wells, flood water and even buckets or bath tubs, in the case of babies. In all these cases, the water that kills innocent Kenyans is not the culprit, because water is life. Rather, the buck stops with leaders as they must lead Kenyans away from the drowning scourge and also with all the 40 million Kenyans who must take individual measures to keep them and fellow Kenyans safe from drowning.

I agree fully with the words of Margaret Chan, the Director-General of WHO, that drowning is a needless loss of life and consequently, ‘action must be taken by all governments to put in place the simple preventive measures articulated by WHO.’
These measures include: Installation of barriers near water bodies; teaching all children basic swimming skills plus training the public in safe rescue and resuscitation. As our national and county governments implement such measures, legislators must enact comprehensive water safety policies. With the same zeal that they purchase ambulances and firefighting trucks, Governors must identify and conquer all drowning hotspots in their counties.

It is time for concerted, collective and urgent action that will halt drowning in Kenya.

Think green, act green! 

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