Drowning among top causes of death in children especially in Asia: WHO

Countries must promote water safety and survival skills across the region as well as install barriers to control access to water, providing safe childcare facilities away from water for pre-school children

The World Health Organization (WHO) says drowning is among the top five causes of death for children under 15 years in 48 of 85 countries surveyed, with children living near open water sources, such as ditches, ponds, irrigation channels or pools especially at risk.

More than half of the world’s drownings – both adult and children – occur in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asian regions.

Regional surveys indicate drownings claim the life of at least one child every 15 minutes in Asia. In the midst of the peak of summer’s heat and during the monsoon rain and flood season, children in Asia are especially vulnerable.

Worldwide, the highest drowning rates are among children one to four years, followed by children five to nine years.

According to the Alliance’s surveys, Bangladesh recorded the highest rates of child drownings at almost 17,000 a year where drowning accounts for 43 per cent of all deaths in children aged one to four years. Bangladesh is followed by Vietnam at more than 11,500. In Thailand some 2,600 children perish each year.

Thailand’s Disease Control Department recently reported that 10,923 children drowned from 2006 to 2015 – a rate of 10 drownings a day. Each year from 2011 to 2015, 192 children under the age of three drowned in water containers at home or at a nursery.

Thai officials have called on parents to teach children how to swim and to keep a close watch on them, especially during the “risky” period of the day between noon and evening.

For China, data is not available for most provinces. But in Jiangxi province alone, the Alliance survey data indicates more than 4,600 annual child drownings, a rate of 10 deaths every day.

In Australia drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury death in children aged one to three years.

In 2015, 26 children aged one to four drowned in Australia, according to Royal Life Saving, compared with 250 child drowning cases in Thailand between March and June last year.

Bill Kirby, an Australian gold medal swimmer from the 2000 Olympics, said regional governments and swimming organizations face challenges to promote water safety.

“One of the things with Asian countries is they are still yet to be organized – the swimming associations or swimming bodies like in the Western world, which probably had more time to be organized and had the government funding and they see the importance of it,” Kirby told VOA.

Kirby, who leads swimming instruction and training courses in Asia, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia, said setting priorities should be among the first steps taken by national governments and swimming bodies.

“Massive flooding – where it’s in Pakistan at the moment or I know in [the Indonesian capital of] Jakarta every year or every two years, they have such big floods and where all the waste goes into the waterways and they have a massive downpour and it floods – which is invariably creating more opportunities for kids to drown – it’s priorities and where do you start,” Kirby said.

Kirby said developing national organizations for swimming and water safety is vital. “One of the first steps is to actually create a national body that looks after water safety, whether it be like [Australia’s] Royal Life Saving or a Swim Australia – that can actually get a lot of stakeholders together and get some government funding and promote water safety,” he said.

The World Health Organization and others are calling for countries to promote water safety and survival skills across the region. It says measures should include installing barriers to control access to water, providing safe childcare facilities away from water for pre-school children and teaching water safety and rescue skills.

The WHO also says governments need to ensure safe boating and ferry regulations in the region, and improve flood risk management.

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About the Author: Akhtar Jamal

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