Mar 25, 2017

On Sept. 26, 2010, almost exactly a year after Typhoon Ondoy had struck, an article ran in the Inquirer titled, “Filipinos should learn how to swim, Coast Guard says.” Though mostly anecdotal, it exemplifies sentiments echoed by other sources over the past few years. Even if the Philippines is an archipelago, not all Filipinos know how to swim—something made all the more important precisely because of where we live.

One major factor is education. In a document by the Philippine Drowning Prevention Council and the Philippine Life Saving Society, the first priority area identified is water safety education. The report, self-explanatorily titled “Philippine Drowning Prevention Plan 2010-15,” cites that papers by the UNICEF Innocenti Research Center showed that the lack of water-safety skills was a major cause of child deaths in the Philippines, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Thailand, and China. Many kids simply do not have the opportunity to learn how to swim early in lifesomething which may have dire consequences later.

Gender may also have a role to play. A number of studies on the role of gender in disaster mitigation were published starting in the late 2000s, authored by groups like UNICEF, the Asian Development Bank, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Common to many of these studies is the assertion that because girls are less likely than boys to be taught physically-oriented life skills such as swimming and tree-climbing (particularly in Asian countries like the Philippines), they are thus left more vulnerable during disasters such as floods and tsunamis.

Still another element in the equation is environment—in particular, the cities to which more and more Filipinos continue to flock. Urban areas, specifically, more landbound ones such as Metro Manila, will tend to have less natural swimming areas (particularly given the increasing garbage and water pollution problems), and very few have easy access to swimming pools. City dwellers often have to go out of their way to find places to swim, and this adds yet another barrier when it comes to practicing the skill.

Despite all this, swimming remains an important life skill, and one that is well worth taking the time to learn. It promotes physical fitness, helps build resistance to disease, and can serve as a fun and relaxing way to spend time with friends. And you never know—one day, it might just save your life.

This story was originally published in Northern Living, May 2015.

TAGS: disaster preparedness fitness nolisoliph swimming