The purpose of this analysis was to quantify the magnitude of death and disability from drowning and near-drowning worldwide and to provide epidemiological data on which to base prevention efforts. All data are from the Global Burden of Disease 2000 (Version 1) estimates in which deaths and disabilities are based on the WHO International Classification of Diseases. Extrapolations were made by age, sex, and WHO region. The six WHO regions of the world were further divided into high-income, and low- and middle-income based on the 1998 World Development indicators. According to the GBD 2000 data, an estimated 449,000 people drowned worldwide (7.4 per 100,000 population) and a further 1.3 million Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) were lost as a result of premature death or disability from drowning. 97% of drownings occurred in low- and middle-income countries. Although 38% of drownings occurred in the Western Pacific Region, Africa had the highest drowning mortality rate (13.1 per 100,000 population). Males had higher drowning mortality rates than females for all ages and in all regions. Children under the age of 5 years had the highest drowning mortality rate for both sexes in all of the WHO regions except for Africa, where children aged 5 to 14 years had the highest mortality rate. World-wide, for children under the age of 15 years, drowning accounted for a higher mortality rate than any other cause of injury. Drowning is a significant problem worldwide particularly for children under the age of 15 years. Low- and middle-income countries have the highest rates of drowning and account for more than 90% of such fatalities. Primary prevention efforts should thus be focused on these countries where many children who cannot swim drown in large bodies of water.