Politics

Scotland’s drowning rate is the highest in the UK – with July the most deadly month


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Dean Irvine, 11, drowned in the Avon Water in Stonehouse, Lanarkshire
Dean Irvine, 11, drowned in the Avon Water in Stonehouse, Lanarkshire

A total of fifty-seven people accidentally drowned in Scotland last year and one person died of natural causes in the water compared with 39 accidental drownings in 2020.

The latest statistics, released to coincide with a summer safety campaign to save lives, reveal that Scotland has the highest rate of accidental drowning of all the UK nations despite a strategy to cut water deaths in half.

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The plan to halve accidental drownings by 2026 was announced four years ago but deaths last year rose to their highest level since 2015.

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Edina Olahova and her nine-year year old son Rana Haris Ali, pictured with her husband Waris Ali, died in Loch Lomond last July. Mr Ali was pulled to safety. A close family friend also drowned in the incident.

North of the border, there were 10 drownings per million people, more than three times the rate in England, with July the highest risk month.

In July 2021, seven people died after a weekend of incidents that rescue teams called the “worst in memory”.

Edina Olahova, 29, her nine-year-old son, Rana Haris Ali, and their friend Muhammad Asim Riaz died in Loch Lomond near Ardlui.

Ms Olahova’s husband Waris Ali was rescued after trying to save his wife and son.

Aman Sharma, 34, from Edinburgh, drowned in Loch Lubnaig last July despite heroic efforts by a friend to save him

Mr Riaz’s seven-year-old son was rescued and taken to hospital in Glasgow in a critical condition.

The tragedy came hours after the death Dean Irvine, 11, in the Avon Water in Stonehouse, Lanarkshire

A 13-year-old boy also died in the River Clyde near Lanark on the same evening, while a 16-year-old boy died near the pier at Balloch Country Park on 24 hours earlier

Days later, Aman Sharma, 34, from Edinburgh, drowned in Loch Lubnaig.

The spate of deaths prompted the Scottish government to publish a water safety action plan in March which included extra funding, updated signs and lesson plans for pupils.

But the emergency services fear a spate of summer tragedies if more people do not take precautions.

Water safety experts believe that widespread access to lochs and rivers, along with colder water, contribute to the generally higher rates of drowning in Scotland in rivers, lochs, reservoirs and the sea.

Last year, the RNLI in Scotland saw 267,191 visitors on their eight lifeguarded beaches and expect that number to increase this summer. Its lifesavers saw 314 incidents and aided nearly 400 people on the beaches they patrol.

Ahead of the summer holidays, the RNLI and HM Coastguard urged people who get into trouble in the water to ‘Float to Live’. To do this: lean back, using your arms and legs to stay afloat. Control your breathing, then call for help or swim to safety.

The lifeboat charity is one of 18 partner agencies including Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service involved in the water safety campaign.

Laura Erskine, the RNLI’s water safety education manager, said: “We have beautiful scenery across Scotland that people should be able to enjoy, but sadly the access to water does come with negative by-products.

“People can get into trouble with cold water shock. Our waters can get extremely cold even on warm days.

“Unfortunately we have seen a rise in fatalities and water-related injuries. What I can say though is there’s a collaborative determination to reduce those drownings.”



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