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EARLIER last month, siblings Ali Noor, 4, and Jesmin, 10, went to their ancestral home at Gopalpur village in Nabinagar upazila under Brahmanbaria district. They came to the village along with their father Mugon Mia from his workplace in Chittagong to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr with same aged cousins and others.
At an afternoon after few days after the Eid, joyous Ali Noor and Jesmin were playing on the bank of an adjacent pond when all of a sudden they fell into it. Seeing them in trouble, their cousin Sabina, 12, instantly jumped into the pond to rescue them. But she also drowned as she did not know how to swim.
Later elderly ones took them to the nearby upazila health complex but it was too late to resuscitate them. The on duty doctor declared all the three dead.
Ali Noor, Jesmin and Sabina are not exceptions in the excessive drowning scenario in Bangladesh. Thousands of children die in the country’s numerous rivers, ponds and lakes every year, as well as along its extensive coastline.
Bangladesh Health and Injury Survey (BHIS-2005) revealed that drowning is the leading cause of death among children aged 1-17 year in Bangladesh, with approximately 17,000 children dying each year.
A 2012 Unicef report surveyed in four Asian countries — Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand– together with two provinces in China (Beijing and Jiangxi), found that in the countries one of every four child deaths (1-4 years) are due to drowning, which is more than the combined number of deaths from measles, polio, whooping cough, tetanus, diphtheria and tuberculosis.
In the countries, most children drowned before age four, while it mostly occurred in rural areas. Before the age four, 80 percent of children drowned within 20 metres of the home.
In Bangladesh, children aged 1-2 years are most vulnerable to drowning, said Dr AKM Fazlur Rahman, executive director, Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh (CIPRB).
“At this age, children usually start to learn how to walk. As a result, they disappear from their parents’ eye sights in no time and presumably fall in danger such as drowning,” he said.
Against such a backdrop, the Bangladesh government has committed to ending preventable child deaths including those because of drowning in the country before 2035. It has declared its determination to give all out efforts to reduce under-five mortality to 20 [per 1,000] by 2035.
Learning swimming is the most effective way for children escaping drowning but, Dr Rahman said, children till their four can seldom learn swimming. For this age group of children, different types of caring programmes in communities are most effective way to protect them from drowning.
Researchers found, most of the drowning in Bangladesh occurs in the time between 9am to 2pm, when mothers usually remain busy with household works.
“It is possible to reduce 60 percent of drowning through engaging children in different types of activities within eye sight from morning till noon,” said Dr Fazlur Rahman.
Mizanur Rahman, a deputy programme manager at Directorate General of Health Services said three pilot projects with the help of Unicef on child take care were held in Narsingdi last year and the outcome was positive in reducing drowning. DGHS has further plan to widen the project in the next fiscal year, he said.
With the help of World Bank DGHS is running an awareness building programme on 11 types of injuries including drowning at present, said Mizanur.
“The programme covered 270 upazilas across the country so far,” he said.
On the other hand, CIPRB has a swimming programme namely SwimSafe in collaboration with Royal Life Saving Society Australia, the Alliance for Safe Children and Bangladesh Swimming Federation.
Children aged 4-10 years old who can meet the survival criteria of 25 metres swimming and 30 seconds treading and rescue skills considered as potential candidates for the programme.
Apart from learning swimming, knowing facts of rescuing drowned people is also important to reduce such occurrence from the society, said Dr Rahman.