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The Financial Express

OPINION

Child-drowning in a land of rivers


--Representational image --Representational image

Those who have never seen spectacles like this before will feel utterly startled at a similar view. The scenes have under-five rural children playfully sprinkling water at each other at the 'ghat' of a pond or a river. Their mothers or older women beside them are found taking bath or washing clothes. Most of them hardly shift eyes from their baby boys and girls. Others remain engrossed in small talks after finishing their chores --- being oblivious to the babies. All of a sudden, the heart-piercing cry of a young mother changes the playful atmosphere into a venue of collective bewilderment and charged chaos. Males working nearby rush to the spot. A serious mishap has happened moments ago. A child is found absent from among the mirthful boys and girls. A small group of young males begins a search in the area for the missing child. After a period of half an hour or so, the lifeless body of a boy is found at the bottom of the water body.

Ironically, this is a common scene in the villages of this river-filled country. But the opposite scenes of under-age boys or girls swimming amid loud noise are also there. In the riverside villages, most of the teenagers, along with a few children, know how to swim. These mixed spectacles stand, apparently, in contrast to a recent report on child drowning prepared by the WHO and Unicef Bangladesh. According to their report, around 38 children lose their lives by drowning every day in Bangladesh.

 In a country with over 700 rivers, and their branches, apart from 'haors' and 'beels', this figure of child deaths by drowning sounds absurd. But as the internationally trusted bodies releasing the report are affiliated with the UN, there are few scopes of belittling the astounding figure. However, problems are there in drawing a decisive conclusion on the number and frequency of deaths. It need not be elaborated that given the hundreds of rivers, canals and marshlands in the country, it is a difficult task to specify the number of deaths by drowning. Besides the vast swathe of villages, the country has few towns and their suburbs that do not have small rivers and canals, where children do not try boat-rides despite being swimming-ignorant, Dhaka being no exception. It is surrounded by four rivers, including the Buriganga and Turag.

 These rivers' numerous branches engulf a vast area of human habitats, mostly shanty dwellings. Children and adolescent boys and girls, not knowing how to swim, settle in these areas. Their lives are entwined with these rivers and canals. Fishing with improvised nets and other fish catching devices is likesporting leisure to them. This Dhaka spectacle is found replicated across the vast semi-urban areas across the country. The Chattogram city, Khulna, Rajshahi, Sylhet and others follow Dhaka in this regard. A death-haunted site in the Chattogram division is the Cox'sBazar sea beach. Dozens of youths die or get washed away into the Bay of Bengal every year at this venue. Bodies of some children and youths are found in the nearby coastal areas. Some remain untraced forever.

The menace doesn't evade relevant experts. Finding the largely intricate network of the country's rural settlements, they find it difficult to go beyond a certain point. Those unreachable areas run the risk of remaining out of the fatality counts due to drowning, including the UN-affiliated organisations, and NGOs. Urban experts thus blame this inaccessibility for the gap between the actual numbers of the drowning victims and the estimated ones. The proposals for family and community awareness of the need for training their offspring on swimming skill, or national policies and investments for drowning prevention remain in the domain of theories. The practical way out could be the rigorous initiatives to help kids learn how to swim, as well as giving them incentives.

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