WELSH families who have lost loved ones to drowning have united to launch the first Welsh Drowning Prevention Strategy.
The strategy launched today by Lesley Griffiths MS, Welsh Government Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, has been drawn up by Water Safety Wales, a collaboration of individuals, communities, charities and public and private sector organisations with an interest in water safety and drowning prevention. It aims to reduce water related deaths and incidents in Wales by promoting the importance of a consistent and effective approach to water safety.
Lesley Griffiths said:
‘Our coastal and inland waters are a jewel in the Welsh crown enjoyed by millions of people each year. But sadly too many people are losing their lives to water-related fatalities. We support Water Safety Wales’ belief that these deaths are preventable.
‘The impact of losing someone to a death in the water cannot be underestimated and I commend the people who have been brave enough to share their stories in support of Wales’ Drowning Prevention Strategy. I also commend the work they and others are already doing to prevent drowning in Wales.
‘The launch of this strategy is an opportunity for us all in Wales to acknowledge the problem of drowning to do what we can to prevent it in the future.’
There are around 600 water related fatalities in the UK every year and in Wales there are an average of 45 at coastal and inland waters. Almost six in 10 (58%) of people who died as a result of an accident in the water did not intend to enter the water at all, while 89% of water related fatalities are men.
Families across Wales backing the strategy include Debbie Turnbull, from Holywell, Flintshire, who tragically lost her 15-year-old son Chris after he drowned in a river at Capel Curig in 2006. Since then Debbie has educated hundreds of thousands of young people through her River and Sea Sense charity.
‘My work in water safety keeps my son’s memory alive. In 2021, Chris will have been gone for 15 years – as long as his lifetime.
‘Water related deaths are preventable. The more people who are educated about water safety, the more safety equipment we have in the right places and the more people we have who can pass on water safety messages in the right way, the more lives we will save.
Also supporting the strategy launch is Danni Harding, from Cardiff, whose suffered life changing injuries when she hit rocks jumping from a waterfall in 2018. Danni, 29, who ran a successful security firm prior to her accident, broke her back and now lives with a series of debilitating health problems.
She says: ‘I didn’t realise that the hot weather had made the water level lower than normal. I was having the greatest time – I’d jumped nine times, until I made that one wrong move and now I have to live with the fact that I have fits, I have a stammer, I have endless hospital appointments – now I have to live with that.
‘I went from being a 24/7 business owner and mother to being stuck in my bedroom, unable to move. It felt my life was just taken away and it was down to one mistake, one wrong move.
‘I’m lucky – I’m still here and I have my life. My heart goes out to all those who have lost a loved one to drowning. But If I’d have been better educated about the risks, I might have made a better choice about jumping that last time in the way I did.’
Reuben Morgan, 15, died whilst swimming at Pontsticill Reservior near Merthyr Tydfil in 2006. His mother Maxine Johnson is heartened to see organisations coming together to help prevent drowning in Wales. Also supporting the strategy are the family of Stephen Amery from Carmarthen, who died from suicide by drowning; Catherine Collins Coleman, sister of Benny Collins who sadly drowned at Three Cliffs Bay, Gower, in 2015; and Leeanne Bartley, from Ruthin, whose son Mark Allen, drowned in Gorton Reservoir, Manchester, in 2018, aged 18.
The families have all produced a small video clip outlining their thoughts on the launch of the new strategy in helping to prevent further deaths.
Statistics from the Water Incident Database (WAID) show the rate of accidental drowning in Wales is almost double that of the UK as a whole, while figures from Welsh blue light and search and rescue services show that on average there are 1755 water incidents per year that require emergency response – approximately five every day.
Dave Ansell, Chair of Water Safety Wales says:
‘Water Safety Wales believes one death is too many, we will reduce drowning if everyone plays their part. We have an aspiration of zero water related deaths in Wales and this strategy aims to enable people living and visiting Wales to be safer in, on and around water by reducing water related deaths and incidents.
‘We are so very grateful to have the support of families who have experienced their own personal tragedies and are sharing those experiences to ensure others don’t to have endure the heartache they have suffered.
This strategy recognises the wide range of fantastic water safety and drowning prevention work already making a real difference in Wales. This strategy hopes to build on that existing work and also act as a call to arms to all of us to do all we can to prevent the tragedy of drowning.’
The key aims of the strategy, which runs from 2020-2026, are to improve water incident data and intelligence in Wales and promote and develop learning to swim and water safety education. Support will also be offered to communities to develop water safety plans to understanding and mitigate any risks. The strategy aims to promote public awareness of water related risks and ensure consistent safety messages reach the right people at the right time, by promoting the promote the safe participation in water activities across Wales.
It also aims to contribute to the reduction of water-related suicide and work with families affected by water related incidents.