Drowning is one of the leading causes of premature death, particularly among children and young adults. Globally, almost 360,000 people die each year from drowning, and over 90% of these deaths occur in low and middle income countries, with Africa recording the world's highest drowning rates. Injuries and death by drowning devastates relatives of the victim, results in the loss of family breadwinner, and often impacts the livelihood activities
of other community members. They also breed fear, anxiety and trauma in people's hearts. People start fearing water, yet their livelihoods depend on it. Despite these regrettable facts, water accidents get relatively little attention and few resources relative to their impact on families, communities and livelihoods.
The proposed project aims at promoting water safety, reducing water injury accidents, and addressing the big challenge of deaths by drowning in Kalangala district (also called Ssese Islands) through provision of swimming lessons, water safety education, sensitization and lifesaving training. Kalangala is an islands district located in Lake Victoria in Central Uganda. It is composed of a total of 84 islands with an area coverage of 9,066.8 sq. km out of which only 432.1 sq. km (4.8%) is land. Bugala, the largest island covers 296 sq. km, nearly 70% of the district land area. Sixty-four out of 84 islands are inhabited by an estimated population of 66,300. According to the District Education Officer, there are 5,531 pupils in 23 primary schools in the district, on 15 islands. Two of the 3 district's main economic activities - fishing and tourism - have a direct link to water. Moreover, the only available transport linking the 64 islands is by use of a fisherman boat or canoe.
According to Makerere University School of Public Health report of 2020, Kalangala district has the highest incidence of water accidents and drowning deaths in Uganda. In a 2.5-year study (Jan. 2016 - June 2018) conducted in 60 districts of Uganda, the district reported 181 drowning cases. The study however found more than 4.6 times the number of water accidents and drowning deaths than were recorded in district-level sources in 14 lakeside districts,
Kalangala inclusive. In fact, according to another study conducted in 2016 among fishing communities around Lake Victoria, this population had one of the world's highest drowning death rates at 502/100,000 population (Kobusingye et al., 2017, Miller et al., 2019). This rate is over 62 times higher than the WHO-African regional rate. Based on available public records, the highest number of water accidents and drownings in Kalangala occur among
young adults 20-30 years of age. Males are at a higher risk (nearly 8 out of every 10 victims are male). Boating is the most common activity associated with water accidents; with more than 75% of boating-related incidents involving fishing. Other causes for water accidents are unsupervised swimming, collecting water, and attempting a rescue. The factors commonly cited as having contributed to boating incidents include bad weather conditions, boats being unseaworthy, overloading, drinking alcohol and other substance use, low awareness of water dangers, and inability to swim in event of an accident. During conversations with stakeholders during the needs assessment, participants underscored the importance of timely rescue and resuscitation to prevent death by drowning. They also indicated that community members lack knowledge on how to rescue someone who is drowning. We also found that fewer than 5% of Ssese Islanders are capable swimmers, and even fewer know what to do when their friend gets into trouble in the water. The situation is direr with children. Cases of children dying while trying to help friends were cited; and it was not uncommon to see two or three children drown at the same time.
The proposed project will: -
a) Provide basic swimming and water safety lessons to primary school pupils as part of school programme. Developing best practice right from the young age is key to success in the long term.
b) Train a core group of local teachers in an international swimming and water safety programme to become Trainer of Trainers (TOTs) to ensure long term sustainability of the programme.
c) Increase sensitization of fishermen and water transport operators and users on the importance of using lifejackets, on safe vessel loading, and avoiding alcohol and drug use while boating. Strategic communications will include public awareness targeting the general population and decision makers, and behaviour change campaigns aimed at risk groups, particularly the youth, fishermen and water transporters.
d) Provide swimming, rescue and resuscitation training to fishing community members
e) Work with stakeholders in the district to increase regular inspection of boats and enforce safe boating regulations including spot checks of compliance
The initial project focus will be on Bugala island, the biggest and most populated island. There are 8 primary schools and over 40 gazetted landing sites/fishing villages on the island. We also plan to apply for a follow-up grant to benefit outlying islands; with special focus on islands with big numbers of primary school children and large number of
fishing communities. Training for pupils and teachers will take place at a hired swimming pool at Victoria Forest Resort - Ssese Islands. Primary 5 (9-10year olds) will be our target age group. Experience has shown that children younger than 8 do not have the attention span for large classes while female children older than 10 have participation problems due to menstruation. Since most children come from poor families, the grant will provide all swim suits, towels, swim goggles, swim caps etc. On the other hand, the community swimming classes, water safety education and sensitization as well as rescue and resuscitation training will be conducted at gazetted landing sites/fishing villages. A simple and achievable program based on the WHO Drowning Prevention Implementation Guide curriculum will be used. Our partners, Swim Safe Uganda (SSU), Uganda Swimming Federation and Rotary
Mariners of East Africa - Uganda Fleet will design the training curriculum and conduct all grant trainings and community sensitization using their professional instructors and lifesavers.
Water accidents and drowning being a cross-sectoral concern, the project will work closely with several stakeholders to enhance its success and sustainability. They will include local governments (both political and cultural), district technical departments (incl. the Education Office, the Fisheries Department, the Health Office and the Works &
Transport Office), law enforcement, Beach Management Units (BMU), leaders in the fishing communities, and youth and women groups.
a. To promote basic swimming as a life skill and safe water best practices among pupils and teachers
b. To reduce water accidents and drowning incidences among fishermen, water transport operators and users through increased sensitization and enforcement of boating regulations
c. To reduce drowning deaths in the district by providing training in lifesaving skills, rescue and resuscitation to community members.
The project will directly benefit more than 200 primary school children, 30 teachers and 1,200 fishermen, water transport operators and users. The district political and technical personnel, cultural leaders, fishing community leaders and parents will be indirect beneficiaries. The benefits to the project will include, among others, saving lives and improving the wellbeing of communities, teaching people to swim as a life skill (health benefits), creating employment as an income stream, and developing the industry. There is also a high level of hydrophobia (fear of water) among many islanders. The project will address these fears and encourage positive thoughts towards water as safe water practices become the norm.