According to numbers released by the WHO and cited by the foundation, only 0.5 out of 100,000 children up to 14 years old in Australia died while playing in water in 2001.
The figure in Taiwan, however, was 1.8 per 100,000 person, "which is three times higher than the figure in Australia," Lin Yue-chin (林月琴), executive director of the foundation, told the press conference.
Statistics released by the foundation showed that accidental death has been the No. 1 cause of death among children since 1994.
Drowning is the number 2 cause of accidental deaths here among kids, and in the world among all people. An NOAA report noted that drowning is actually underreported as a cause of death, since typical "accident" definitions exclude drowning due to catastrophes such as flooding or storms.
The Taiwan problem is global -- death rates by drowning in India, Africa, and China are much higher than in the developed world, where many people learn to swim. In the developed world marginalized and minority populations, typically poorer than the majority, also have higher death rates due to a lack of education in swimming and water safety. Taiwan is no exception in the Chinese world. According to the NOAA report above, drowning is the leading cause of injury death for children 1-14 in China.
In Taiwan, another drowning risk often overlooked is the constant presence of water in farms, including innumerable irrigation ditches, dams, culverts, and aquaculture pools. In one Australian study, farm irrigation facilities cause more than 3/4 of all drowning deaths in the 5 and under cohort.
The Foundation recommended that Taiwan put greater emphasis on education:
Education is another measure the government should take, Lin suggested.
"Our field investigation found that only 3.56 percent of schools nationwide require that their students learn to swim," Lin said.
"In addition, swimming lessons should consist of more than just letting students learn to swim. Students should be taught practical survival skills in water, especially in emergencies," Lin said.
Meanwhile, Lin emphasized that parents must also share the responsibility.
"During our field investigation, we also saw many parents allow their children to play in rivers alone, or while being monitored from a distance," Lin said."An emergency can occur at any moment and can take your child's life in just seconds," Lin warned.
Only 4% of students obtain swimming instruction at their schools. The Foundation also made clear that the famous Taiwanese indifference to safety is also an issue.
My first year at the university I lost two students to drowning, one by death, the other to injury. They were "playing" in shallow water outside of Taichung Harbor, apparently, and drowned in water that was deep enough to stand up and walk out of. The same thing happened to the kids who died last month in Ta-ken. Panic and inexperience will claim your life in seconds in the water. In addition to pushing them to have a plan for what to do after graduation, one of the stock speeches I give to my students is that they have to learn to swim, which should be regarded as a necessary skill, not a leisure activity. Generally I find that about half my kids are unable to swim at all, including my adult students. That's a recipe for a continuing high death rate by drowning.