Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of drowning in the world, ranked at 12 in the World Health Organization's (WHO) 2014 drowning table. As in many developing countries, people are widely exposed to open water hazards such as ponds, ditches, rivers and the ocean. Drowning is the leading cause of death for children aged 1-17, with around 18,000 children dying each year, according to the 2005 Bangladesh Health and Injury Survey.
A fisherman casts his net on a river in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Photo: Mike Lavis

A fisherman working on a river in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Adults are also vulnerable, particularly fishermen and people using water transport such as ferries and launches. Bangladesh is prone to natural disasters and frequent flooding, claiming thousands of lives each year.  The most severe flooding occurs during July and August - nationally regular river floods affect 20% of the country, increasing up to 68% in extreme years.  And 75% of flood-related fatalities are due to drowning.

How we’re helping

The RNLI has been working in Bangladesh since 2012 to help organisations build their own capacity to reduce drowning. We’ve introduced programmes across a range of organisations, including:

The Barisal Project

In 2016 the RNLI and Centre of Injury Prevention and Research (CIPRB) started a comprehensive drowning reduction project in the Barisal division of southern Bangladesh, taking a multi sector approach to combat drowning. 

We will test the theory that coordinated responses - both at a national and regional/local level - will significantly reduce drowning nationally and, ultimately, globally. The experience and knowledge gained will help us develop similar plans in other parts of Bangladesh and the rest of the world.

The Barisal division offers a good testing ground, with its high rates of drowning, an established working relationship with an experienced national partner, and interest and support from local and national authorities.

  • Project Bhasa factsheet

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    Project Bhasa - ending the drowning epidemic
A lifeguard holding up a flag in a school water safety lesson in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh

Photo: RNLI / Rob Goodlad

SeaSafe lifeguards also give water safety lessons to schoolchildren in Cox’s Bazaar

Lifeguarding and community education - Centre of Injury Prevention and Research (CIPRB)

Since 2012 we’ve been working with CIPRB in Cox’s Bazar to develop Bangladesh’s first coastal lifesaving service, SeaSafe. The SeaSafe project now runs lifeguard patrols on two beaches in Cox’s Bazar and provides water safety lessons to schools throughout the district. It’s created local job opportunities (SeaSafe employs 20 lifeguards) and is supported by a further 20 volunteers from the Cox’s Bazar Lifesaving and Surfing Club. So far the lifeguard patrols have saved over 150 lives.

The project also includes a Learn to Swim component, with the aim of having 1,000 children each year graduate from a course of swimming and survival lessons. This will give them the skills to swim 25m, float for 30 seconds, and give them the knowledge to rescue others while keeping themselves safe.

National flood rescue - Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence

We’ve provided training and operational guidance to improve the flood rescue capabilities of the Fire Service and Civil Defence across Bangladesh.

Flood rescue trainees in a swimming pool in Bangladesh

Photo: Mike Lavis

Flood rescue trainees in a swimming pool in Bangladesh

Development of low-cost, sustainable rescue equipment 

An exciting innovation of sustainable and low-cost rescue equipment has started in Bangladesh. We’re working with Bournemouth University and others on the initial designs of a throw bag, rescue board and rescue tube, which can be made using materials and manufacturing skills locally.  Find out more here.

Flood rescue throw bags being produced by local makers in Bangladesh

Photo: Mike Lavis

Flood rescue throw bags being produced by local makers in Bangladesh

National maritime search and rescue - Bangladesh Coast Guard

We have been providing guidance to develop an effective search and rescue training programme. Two officers visited RNLI College in 2012 for an introduction to search and rescue training and management, and since then we’ve worked with their colleagues in in Chittagong, Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar.

RNLI trainers with the Bangladesh Coast Guard

Photo: RNLI / Mike Lavis

RNLI trainers with the Bangladesh Coast Guard