How big a problem is drowning in Bangladesh?
Bangladesh Health and Injury Survey (BHIS) 2016 found that the drowning mortality rate is 11.7 per 100,000 people per year, resulting in a total of 19,247 deaths, with children accounting for two-thirds of those killed. WHO estimates that the rate of drowning in Bangladesh is five times higher than in other low - and middle - income countries.
Studies and research show that 68% of drowning incidents occur between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., with the majority of incidents occurring in ponds (66%) and ditches (16%) located nearest to households. Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS), the Commonwealth's oldest and largest live-saving and drowning prevention organisation, ranks Bangladesh as 5th highest among the commonwealth countries with regard to drowning.
According to the Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey, 2017-18, around 58% of the children who drown each year are under five years old. Bangladesh Sample Vital Statistics 2020, produced by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, shows that in rural Bangladesh, the death of under-five children caused by drowning has been found highly prevalent (9.7%) compared to urban areas (7%), which is just below the rate of deaths of children of the same age group caused by pneumonia.
What are the factors behind drowning in the Bangladesh context?
Multiple factors have been identified by public health researchers that trigger drowning deaths, such as insufficient or lack of physical barriers between people and water, particularly close to home; lack of (or inadequate) supervision for young children; uncovered or unprotected water supplies and lack of safe water crossings; lack of water safety awareness and risky behaviour around water, such as swimming alone; travelling on water, especially in overcrowded or poorly maintained mal-standard ferries; and flood disasters, whether from extreme rainfall, storm surges, tsunamis, or cyclones.
In the Bangladesh context, incidences of drowning have been accelerated by the reality that both parents in poorer households often have to work in distant places, leaving their children unattended.
What are the possible solutions to the drowning epidemic?
Wide range of effective solutions have already been innovated to prevent drowning in a rural context across diverse geography around the globe. Solutions that have proven effective in the Bangladesh context have been the strategic use of barriers to control access to water, creation of an institutional supervision mechanism for children under five, and teaching basic swimming skills to children above the age of five.
In addition to the tested interventions, there must be an effective mechanism for flood risk management; strict enforcement of inland water transport legislation, followed by the enactment and adoption of water safety policies. Establishing a preventive safety net requires capacitating a critical mass as the first responder and ensuring that communities as a whole reject all harmful traditional practices. Building awareness among the masses is of utmost importance to ensure that more solutions are derived to prevent drowning.
Why have a World Drowning Prevention Day and what was the context of the adoption of the UNGA resolution on global drowning prevention?
The Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UN, Ambassador Rabab Fatima introduced the first-ever one-off UNGA resolution on "Global Drowning Prevention" which acknowledged the 'silent epidemic' for the first time in the UN's 75-year history. Co-led by Ireland, the resolution was co-sponsored by a total 81 Member States.
The resolution recognises that drowning affects every nation of the world and provides a framework for action for an effective response to the unacceptably high number of drowning deaths. The resolution further identifies that drowning is a preventable cause of mortality that disproportionately affects children and adolescents within and among nations.
A new UN Day for drowning prevention, 25 July, was also proclaimed to promote awareness and encourage national action, as well as share best practices and key solutions to drowning. Bangladesh Permanent Mission to the UN in New York has been working since 2018 to ensure that this global and preventable epidemic secures much-deserved political space internationally.
What is the impact of the UNGA resolution at the state level?
Compared to the adversity of drowning, communities, governments and non-government actors at large are not aware of the harshness of drowning. While building awareness among a critical mass is essential, it is not sufficient.
Ambassador Fatima, in her remarks during the adoption of the resolution, stressed, "We have reduced child mortality rates globally, and however, if we cannot bring death from drowning to 'zero', our success in primary healthcare, and therefore, achievement of SDG 3 will remain unaccomplished".
The UNGA resolution on Global Drowning Prevention has created scope so that global development and political leaders will now engage in discussions and formulate an affordable solution to reduce the drowning epidemic without which the majority of the targets of SDGs relating to child mortality cannot be achieved.
Such a landmark resolution on global drowning prevention will help to bring the member states under an accountability framework so that they will adopt policies and allocate resources at the national level for the effective implementation of drowning prevention interventions.
It is worth mentioning Bangladesh is the second country since the adoption of the UNGA resolution on global drowning prevention who has allocated Tk. 27.1 to implement a project titled "Integrated Community Based Centre for Child Care, Protection and SwimSafe Facilities" to be implemented by Bangladesh Shishu Academy under the supervision of the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs.
It is exciting that following the UNGA resolution, the non-communicable disease control programme (NCDC) of the Directorate of Health Services (DGHS) has initiated a rigorous process of framing a national drowning prevention strategy.