Three children Ruman (7), Sharmin (5) and Mariyam (8) were playing around the corner from their house. Ruman and Sharmin are siblings while Mariyam is a cousin.
Their house is in Zia Colony of Badurtali in Patuakhali’s Kalapara upazila. The parents of the three children weren’t home on the afternoon of 12 May.
Their grandmother Shefali Begum was at home. When a neighbour went to fetch water for his cattle from the nearby marsh that afternoon, he noticed a child’s body floating on the water.
As he went to fish the child out of water, he found bodies of two more drowned children.
Ruman and Sharmin’s father Sohel Fakir is an auto-rickshaw driver. He had three children. He and his wife had gone to see a physician that day, taking their two-year old daughter with them.
That’s when this terrible accident happened. Sohel Fakir said over the phone, “I hope such a terrible thing never happens to anyone else.”
Tragic incidents like child death from drowning are increasing.
World Health Organization (WHO) has talked of 10 necessary measures like setting up child day care centres, swimming lessons, first aid, etc. to prevent child death from drowning.
According to government records, drowning is now the fourth leading cause of death among children aged below five. And the rate has more than doubled in the last three years.
The government initiated a three-year project in February last year (2022) to prevent death from drowning. Although, it has been more than a year since then, there has been no progress.
Monsoon is ahead. And incidents of child death from drowning occur more usually during this time. If effective measures are taken, such deaths can be prevented.
The statistics (2021) published last month by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics shows that 7.4 per cent of the total deaths among children aged five years are caused from drowning.
According to the statistics of 2018, death from drowning was the fifth major cause of death for five-year old children. One-third of the total deaths among children of this age used to be from drowning.
This death rate was around 4 per cent in villages and in cities it was 1.2 per cent. Both in 2018 and in 2021, pneumonia was the topmost cause of death among children aged five years.
We have seen in research that at least 11,000 children aged five years die from drowning every year. And, majority of these deaths aren’t reported in newspapers.
Deaths are preventable
Media development and communication based organisation ‘Shomashte’ analyses data of death from drowning, published in newspapers.
According to the records of this organisation, a total of 3,285 people have died from drowning between 2020 and 2022, in these three years. And, 87 per cent of them are children.
This statistics of Shomashte is prepared based on newspaper reports alone. The number is way higher in reality, believes Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh (CIPRB) executive director AKM Fazlur Rahman.
He was saying, “We have seen in studies that at least 11,000 children aged five years die from drowning every year. And, majority of these deaths aren’t reported in newspapers.” CIPRB has been working to prevent child death since 2005.
World Health Organization (WHO) has spoken 10 necessary measures like setting up child day care centres, swimming lessons, first aid etc. for preventing child death from drowning.
Three of the WHO-recommended necessary measures are in fact taken out of CIPRB’s experience.
CIPRB has made arrangements for child day cares, swimming lessons and first aid in ten upazilas across the country to prevent death from drowning. These centres were named ‘Anchal’.
AKM Fazlur Rahman said, “CIPRB research has shown, drowning incidents have reduced by 86 per cent in areas where there is Anchal centre.’
After the project being approved in February last year, official order from the ministry arrived in May. There has been a bit of delay. We’ll start working intently from July. We’ll now get 18 months to execute the project.Programme manager Md Tarikul Islam Chowdhury
Slow pace of government project
There has long been a demand of taking government initiative to prevent child death from drowning.
In this context, the ministry of women and children affairs took up a project titled, ‘Integrated community based center for child care, protection and swim-safe facilities project’ in February last year.
Under this three-year long project, 8,000 community-based child care centres are supposed to be set up for 200,000 one to five years old children.
A total of 25 children will get admission in each of the centres. Children will remain in those centres from 9:00am to 2:00pm. And, this will create employment opportunities for 16,000 rural women.
The project costing Tk 2.71 billion (271.82 crore) was approved in ECNEC on 22 February last year. According to plan, the project will be running in 16 districts under the management of local NGOs.
But even after 15 months of the project launch, only 16 officers have been appointed in 16 districts. Neither did the NGOs start working, nor has the project director been appointed yet.
Programme manager of the project Md Tarikul Islam Chowdhury told Prothom Alo, “After the project being approved in February last year, official order from the ministry arrived in May. There has been a bit of delay.”
“We’ll start working intently from July. We’ll now get 18 months to execute the project,” he added.