Ministry project sees little progress
Despite repeated concerns from experts, child drowning still remains a major concern in Bangladesh, with over 7.9 percent of children aged under five drowning annually in rural areas of the country.
The number (5.8 percent) is relatively lower in urban areas, according to a Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics study.
In May 2022, a project aiming to establish coordinated children care centres in 16 districts was initiated under the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs to prevent child drowning.
The project, titled "Early Development of Children, Protection, and Providing Swimming Facilities" is being implemented by Bangladesh Children Academy.
However, such centres have only been set up in six districts in the last one and a half years, falling short of their original plan.
The project proposed to establish 8,000 community-based integrated childcare centres across the designated districts, with each centre admitting 25 children, aiming to cater to 200,000 children under the age of five.
Additionally, it aimed to provide swimming lessons to over 306,000 children aged 6-10 at 1,600 venues (100 centres in each district) through the "Swim Safe" programme.
Centre for Injury Prevention and Research (CIPRB), funded by Bloomberg and the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, undertook the project's research work.
CIPRB had been running three centres in Patuakhali and Barguna upazilas, offering their services to around 3,000 children.
The initial planning phase took a considerable amount of time as it was a completely new venture, informed Tariqul Islam Chowdhury, the project's programme manager.
The delayed arrival of the ministry's order and recruitment process further hindered the work, he added.
"Considering the time-consuming nature of the project, completing it within three years seems challenging. However, the project will hopefully be completed by the next fiscal year," he said.
According to World Health Organization and Unicef Bangladesh, over 14,000 children drown in the country every year. Drowning is the second leading cause of death for children under five.
Recognising this cause, the United Nations General Assembly declared July 25 (today) as World Drowning Prevention Day in 2021.
This year, the day will be celebrated globally with the theme -- "Anyone can drown, no one should."
Six children drowned in Patuakhali on June 23 this year. Of them, four were from the district's Galachipa upazila while one each hailed from Kalapara and Mirzaganj upazilas.
According to reports, the rate of such incidents is higher in coastal districts.
"The numbers are significantly higher in Patuakhali as the district is home to a large number of natural and man-made water bodies," said SM Kabir Hasan, civil surgeon of the district.