Break the Silence

17 November 2016

RNLI Chief Executive Paul Boissier talks about why the RNLI is leading the response to tackle global drowning, a silent, but preventable epidemic that affects the world’s poorest the most, in particular children.
Paul Boissier holding a break the silence plaque

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Quite rightly, we focus a lot of time and energy on our domestic goal of halving coastal drownings by 2024, but I also want us all to think more about our international goals. So firstly, let me remind you what they are:

  • To establish a coalition that advocates a reduction in the horrifying level of global drowning
  •  And to ensure that effective prevention strategies exist in the highest risk areas of the world by 2024.

These are massive goals, and they will need a lot of organisations to collaborate if we are to deliver them.  But the brutal fact is that 372,000 people drown every year - over 1000 people every day – and anyone who appreciates how tragic drowning can be will realise that this is a goal worth working for.

Not long ago, I visited Zanzibar, to see our international prevention work first hand.  It gave me a sharper appreciation of the tragedy caused by drowning, and I realised that it is completely indiscriminate.  In Zanzibar, as in the UK and Ireland,  drowning decimates communities, but it is also the communities who provide the solution, from the young women breaking gender expectations to become the first female swim teachers, to the newly-engaged village elders, and the thousands of girls and boys who now have the swim skills to survive in the water.  It shows that prevention really is possible when we all work together.

In our 194 years of life-saving history, the RNLI has never stood by in the face of a tragedy.  We have always responded. 

Right now, the international community is not responding to this tragedy, and drowning has become the leading cause of child mortality in many countries, from Vietnam to Bangladesh. It causes wasted lives and preventable deaths, and the worst hit communities are some of the poorest people on the planet.  I am proud that the RNLI is leading the response.  

So I would like you to think about how you can help – either by simply spreading the message among your families and friends or by suggesting how we can become more effective in meeting these goals. 

Above all, we simply must #BreakTheSilence and make more people aware that this a global epidemic, only marginally smaller than malaria

Thank you

Paul Boissier, RNLI Chief Executive