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UNICEF supports swimming instruction to prevent child deaths in Bangladesh

© UNICEF Bangladesh/2009/Crowe
Young boys learn to swim in Golla Para village. Proportionate to population, more children die from drowning in Bangladesh than in any other country.

SIRAJGANJ DISTRICT, Bangladesh, 3 September 2009 — A group of Bangladeshi children recently gathered at a local pond to receive a potentially life-saving health intervention: swimming lessons.

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Preventing deaths from drowning used to be less of a priority for Bangladesh, which has faced other major child killers such as diarrhoea, measles and malnutrition. But the country has done well in tackling these ailments through vaccinations and treatment, and now it is beginning to address previously hidden issues.

With mortality from preventable diseases in retreat, the high risk of death by drowning has come to the fore. In fact, proportionate to population, more children die from drowning in Bangladesh than in any other country. Some 17,000 children drown here each year.

A growing threat
Water is everywhere in this land of massive rivers, deltas, rice paddies and ponds. And the risk of drowning may be increasing with climate change, extreme weather patterns, frequent flooding and rising sea levels.

In response, UNICEF and its partners have been teaching Bangladeshi children to swim in order to save their own lives – and the lives of others.

© UNICEF Bangladesh/2009/Madhok
Community swimming instructor Aminsa Khatun guides her students through exercises before their swimming lesson in Betua village.

“What we are doing now is that we are pre-empting a situation for five to seven years down the road,” said UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh Carel de Rooy. “This is very relevant for Bangladesh; some estimates are that if the sea levels were to rise over the next century by one metre, a third of Bangladesh could come under water.”

Life-saving techniques
So far, 35,000 Bangladeshi children have been taught to swim, and many have learned life-saving techniques. They’re told not to risk leaping into the water themselves to save a drowning friend or family member, but rather to use a stick or pole to rescue the drowning child without placing themselves at risk.

UNICEF Bangladesh hopes such lessons help to ensure that the country’s high number of drowning deaths will become a thing of the past, just as other causes of child mortality have been reduced.

"I am teaching them so that they can benefit in the future,” explained community swimming instructor Shahinur Alam. “I am giving them a vaccine against death so that they do not die because of drowning."




31 August 2009: UNICEF correspondent Sarah Crowe reports on how the ‘learn to swim’ campaign is saving Bangladeshi children’s lives.
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