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Children in flood-affected areas constitute most drowning deaths

  • Published at 06:19 pm July 29th, 2020
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Children commuting haphazardly due to lack of other modes of transportation in flood-hit Kurigram district Dhaka Tribune

Among the 22 people that have died in Kurigram till Friday, 17 were children—constituting 80% of total deaths from drowning in the district

The increasing rate of children drowning in the floodwaters and falling ill with waterborne diseases across the country is extremely distressing. 

Anisa Begum, a resident of Ramna union under Kurigram’s Chilmari upazila, recently lost her child when she along with her two children was forced to take shelter on the Wapda dam after she had lost her home to this year’s floods. On Friday, when Anisa was cooking,  holding her infant child on her lap, her 10-year-old daughter, while playing at the edge of the dam, fell into the river. Firefighters later rescued the girl’s body and handed it over to her grieving mother. 

Such incidents have become common in the flood-hit areas as families have been forced to take shelter on streets and embankments under the open sky, having lost their homesteads and belongings to the floods.

According to Kurigram Civil Surgeon's Office, among the 22 people that have died in the flood-hit district till Friday, 17 were children—constituting 80% of the total number of deaths by drowning in the district.

Although sufficient data are not available on children drowning, it can be presumed that the situation could be similar in other flood-affected districts.

The World Health Organization estimates that Bangladesh has one of the highest drowning rates in the world for children under five years old.

Besides, drowning accounts for 42% of all deaths among children aged 1 to 4 years old in Bangladesh, according to a study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins International Injury Research Unit, which was published online on May 11, 2020.  

“About two children between the ages of 1 and 4 die every hour from drowning in Bangladesh,” says study lead author Olakunle Alonge, MD, assistant professor in the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School. “Fortunately, community-based daycares can be highly effective at reducing drowning risk.”

The study established more than 3,200 daycares in Bangladesh and conducted research on 64,000 children. It then concluded that establishing home-based community-led daycare centres in rural Bangladesh was effective in reducing the number of drowning deaths among children aged 9 to 47 months old by 88%.

“Not all cases of drowning are reported, especially during large-scale emergencies like floods, as the affected areas remain isolated from the rest of the country. Many deaths go unreported,” Shumona Shafinaz, a UNICEF project officer, told IRIN in Dhaka.

“In about two-thirds of instances when children drowned they were alone or accompanied by another child who was not capable of rescuing them,” Dr Shumona pointed out.

“Busy mothers with a large family, a home and many children to care for are often unable to watch over the little ones. At the time of drowning incidents, most mothers or caregivers were involved either in household activities or were working outside. Lack of adequate supervision turns out to be the key contributor to these preventable deaths,” she explained.

The Unicef has recently estimated that around 1.3 million children in Bangladesh will be affected by flooding this year. 

Regarding steps taken by the district administration on ensuring the safety of children in flood-affected regions, Kurigram Deputy Commissioner Rezaul Karim said children were dying from drowning because of lack of adequate supervision. “If families move to shelter centres, deaths by drowning may be prevented.”

He added that public representatives, including upazila nirbahi officers, had been instructed to undertake awareness campaigns among flood victims on taking additional care of children and the elderly during this period of disaster.

About establishing home-based community-led daycare centres in rural regions, the DC said: “This decision should come from the government’s policy-making bodies. We will promptly respond to any sort of directives in this regard.”

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