Preventing Death by Drowning: Ministry project sees little to no progress
The responsibility of running the centres should be given to village mothers who can divide the work among themselves, as they know their kids best. Appointing salaried employees based on political favouritism is not an ideal solution to this, and is also destructive to our social capital.
To address children's death by drowning, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs in February 2022 approved a childcare development and safety project with a budget of Tk 271.82 crore, with an implementation period of January 2022 to December 2024.
The project, titled "Integrated Community Based Center for Child Care, Protection and Swim-Safe Facilities", aimed to set up 8,000 childcare centres for two lakh children under the age of five in 16 districts, initiate parenting sessions through the centres, and introduce 1,600 swimming facilities for 3.6 lakh children between the ages six and 10, in partnership with the high-quality instructional programme "Swim-Safe".
Bangladesh Shishu Academy (BSA) and the ministry received the responsibility to implement the project nationally. But BSA, which works under the ministry, has not yet been able to complete preparatory works, including selecting NGOs for collaboration. Meanwhile, more than one-third of the implementation duration has passed.
Contacted, Tariqul Islam Chowdhury, project manager at BSA, stated that despite receiving approval in February 2022, they received the government order from the ministry in May last year, for which they were unable to commence work.
"We have started our work in July 2022 and expect to commence full-scale operations once the NGOs are selected. The project may receive a total of 18 months to complete all works," he said.
Tariqul also mentioned that the project hired 16 assistant project managers last November to oversee the work of NGOs in 16 districts, and they have undergone a two-day orientation in two batches.
"In mid-February 2023, we hired a procurement specialist to draft the terms of reference for selecting NGOs. This process took time due to advertising in newspapers for the recruitment," he said.
On March 20, a cost-estimation committee was formed to approve the cost for eight packages in 16 districts, and upon its approval, the "expression of interest" will be released in April, he added.
The project received an allocation of Tk 10 crore for this fiscal year, and Tk 1.87 crore was spent in the first quarter of 2023.
Asked whether the money would remain unspent at the end of this fiscal, he stated that most of the funds would be disbursed to the selected NGOs by June this year.
According to Mir Masrur Zaman -- director of SoMaSHTe, an organisation that regularly analyses deaths by drowning based on national and local media reports -- said given the current circumstances, meeting the project's deadline seems unlikely.
"Extending the deadline and budget may be necessary, resulting in a longer implementation period," he said.
Besides, as the project is supposed to receive funds and technical assistance from Bloomberg Philanthropies and Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Masrur expressed concerns about the possibility of development partners withdrawing their support due to this delay. He also said failure to allocate the budget of a government project inevitably influences the budget of the next year.
Masrur also recommended conducting awareness campaigns regarding the issue ahead of monsoon, as the incidents of drowning are more likely to occur during this time of the year.
Mohammad Ruhul Quddus, Bangladesh coordinator for Global Health Advocacy Incubator, mentioned that despite its significance for the community and the children, the project could not make the expected progress so far.
"While it may be necessary to extend the project's implementation timeline, we are optimistic that expediting the activities would have a positive impact on children's safety," he said.
On the other hand, disaster management specialist Gowher Nayeem Wahra suggested that such projects are not sufficient to reduce drowning deaths, and local governments, especially the promising female ward members, should be engaged in supervising these community daycares.
Citing Kerala's Anganwadi rural childcare centre, Gowher suggested that the responsibility of running the centres should be given to village mothers who can divide the work among themselves, as they know their kids best.
"Appointing salaried employees based on political favouritism is not an ideal solution to this, and is also destructive to our social capital," he said.