Why are so many children dying from drowning?
The statistics of death by drowning among children in Bangladesh is very grim. According to one survey report, in the last year and a half, 1,400 individuals died by drowning, 83 percent of whom were children. However, according to a 2016 survey of the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh, around 14,438 children aged 18 years or under die by drowning in Bangladesh. In other words, 40 children die by drowning every day. According to WHO, the number of deaths from drowning in Bangladesh is around 18,000 every year, and drowning accounts for 43 percent of all deaths in children aged one to four years in our country.
It is not surprising that the rural areas are the most risk-prone, given that our countryside is dotted with innumerable ponds. In many places, there is a pond for a cluster of houses consisting of a few families. It is not surprising, too, that children below five are the most at risk. That is an age when few can be taught swimming or develop any comprehension of danger and safety.
This matter is serious enough to have merited global attention—it being a global phenomenon—and the first World Drowning Prevention Day, declared by the UN, was observed on July 25, 2021. We are happy to note that the resolution was introduced by Bangladesh.
Therefore, what begs the question is this: when there is an acknowledgment of the seriousness of the problem at the government level, why has the issue of child drowning not been addressed with the same urgency as it deserves, given the abysmal data quoted above? When the country has made remarkable progress in reducing under-five mortality in diseases like diphtheria, polio, pneumonia and other child diseases, the fact that so many children should succumb to a preventable cause of mortality is unacceptable.
We understand that several programmes are underway, while some are awaiting government approval, like the draft national strategy for drowning prevention—prepared by the Directorate General of Health Services—providing for massive awareness development activities. It has been awaiting approval since 2019. We wonder why.
There are several proven measures that have also been recommended by the UN, which must be incorporated in our action plans and implemented immediately. This is a matter of life and death, literally, and plans and programmes to implement the remedial measures cannot afford to be hamstrung by bureaucratic red tape.