Bangladesh

Water is everywhere in Bangladesh. The country has one of the highest drowning rates in the world, ranked 12th in the World Health Organization's (WHO) 2014 report.

The problem is vast, but researchers, rescuers and educators are leading the fight to make water safety a priority.

Drowning in Bangladesh

As in many developing countries, people are widely exposed to open water hazards such as ponds, ditches, rivers and the ocean during their daily lives. Drowning is the leading cause of death for children aged 1-17, with around 18,000 children dying this way each year (Bangladesh Health and Injury Survey, 2005).

‘If there had just been someone at home that day, she could have been looked after’

Rowshanara with her grandson, holding a photo of her granddaughter Shohagi who drowned outsideher home in Barisal

Photo: RNLI/Harrison Bates

Rowshanara holds a photo of her granddaughter Shohagi

Rowshanara looked after her granddaughter Shohagi (2) in Barisal, so that her daughter could work in a factory in Dhaka. Shohagi drowned in the pond outside her home, when Rowshanara was called away to work with her livestock.

‘In the rainy season, water surrounds us here on four sides. What can I say about this sadness? Shohagi used to talk in such a sweet way, everyone in this neighbourhood loved her. If someone came to the house to visit and the tea was boiling, she would try to find the plates and the cups.

‘I understand why it happened. I’m just one person. When I was all alone, I used to say to myself, how will I look after the child? If there had just been someone at home that day, she could have stayed with them and been looked after. I have to work to live, but if I hadn’t gone to work that day she would have survived. I can’t accept it.’

RNLI partners in Bangladesh

  • CIPRB website
    CIPRB logo
    Centre for Injury Prevention and Research Bangladesh (CIPRB)

    CIPRB was founded in February 2005, with the vision of a safe and injury-free community in low-income and developing nations. They conduct research, test interventions and run programmes across Bangladesh, and contribute to global research on injury rates and prevention. This, together with their community network and respected position in the public health field, makes them a strong partner for tackling a nationwide epidemic.

    CIPRB website
  • BFSCD website
    BFSCD logo
    Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence (BFSCD)

    BFSCD are responsible for search and rescue missions on land during any disaster, such as cyclones and floods, as well as firefighting. As a quarter of the country routinely floods every year, we knew that better flood rescue training and operational strategy could help save lives in and around the water, when disaster hits.

    BFSCD website

The difference we’re making together

The problem in Bangladesh can seem overwhelming, but the solutions are proving to be simple and relatively cheap – it costs less than £100 to deliver a water safety class to 30 children.

SeaSafe: protecting families on the world’s longest beach

Starting as a lifeguarding programme in 2012, the CIPRB has expanded SeaSafe into a range of activities that keep locals and visitors to Cox’s Bazar safe.

Grown from the vibrant local surf club culture, 25 lifeguards watch over 3 beaches - and take a keen interest in community education. Many of the team deliver talks to schools and other groups, and there is a training programme underway to qualify more SeaSafe staff to teach water safety messages.

A Sea Safe lifeguard patrolling the beach at Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

Photo: Mike Lavis

SeaSafe lifeguards are making their local beaches and communities safer

‘Cox’s Bazar has one of the longest beaches, more than 120km of unbroken sands. There are many rip currents, and people like to use inflatables to float and play. This is one of the main causes of drowning here.

‘When I was young I had the wrong information about the sea. They told me that the sea is safer when it’s high tide, risky when it’s low tide. This is genuinely what everyone thinks!

‘Lots of my friends, lots from my community have drowned. But the difference from when SeaSafe started its journey is that no-one has died in the lifeguard area. That’s the biggest achievement so far, for us.’

Saving and changing lives

In 2017, the lifeguards rescued 29 people from the sea at Cox’s Bazar, and took almost a quarter of a million preventative actions (such as moving the flagged swimming area or making safety announcements) to keep many more safe. Four teachers are now running SwimSafe sessions, and taught almost 2,000 children swim survival skills in 2017. Across 81 local schools, 25,000 children learned water safety messages.

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

There is still more for this growing team to do. During festivals and holidays, tens of thousands of people fill the beach and there are still drownings outside the flagged patrol areas. The education programme will help to shift people’s understanding of the water, and by engaging with local government and businesses (such as beachside hotels), SeaSafe are exploring ways to raise awareness of the lifeguard service and find sustainable funding sources once RNLI support concludes.

Project Bhasa: Using research to save more lives

Women and children in an anchal crèche in Barisal, Bangladesh

Photo: CIPRB/Bhasa

The anchal (crèche) system keeps children supervised and safe during the day

We’ve joined forces with the CIPRB and The George Institute for Global Health to build an in-depth picture of the drowning problem in Barisal, one of the worst affected regions in Bangladesh.

The project is now rolling out more SwimSafe lessons and an ‘anchal’ (crèche) system to more communities across Barisal. Dr Kamran Ul Baset from CIPRB explains:

'They have fun, play, sing rhymes. The system puts them in a safe environment, and parents are very happy to send them because they are getting some pre-school preparation, while addressing the safety issue. If we can make a safe environment for children during these hours, we will reduce a huge number of drownings.'

 Visit our international research section to see how the surveys were carried out.

BFSCD: Training Bangladesh’s flood responders

We’ve been working with BFSCD to help strengthen their response to large-scale floods. In 2017, we trained 4 new assessor-trainers within the organisation, who in turn trained 60 firefighters in flood rescue skills. In 2018 the number of trainer-assessors has risen to 16, and they plan to teach flood skills to a further 120 firefighters this year.

A flood rescue training session on a river in Bangladesh

Photo: RNLI/Robin Goodlad

Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence members learning swift water rescue skills

The ultimate aim is for BFSCD to be fully self-sustaining in terms of flood rescue training and development. See how they’ve helped create an intervention that can be used by similar organisations in future, in the flood rescue section.

Discover more

Funding

Project Bhasa has received funding from:

  • The Whitewater Charitable Trust

SwimSafe in Cox’s Bazar has received funding from:

  • Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation, whose primary objective is to save lives by fighting against drowning. Its missions are to raise public awareness about the dangers of water, teach children preventive measures, and teach them to swim.
 

Our international vision is of a world in which no-one should drown. Could you help us towards this vision?

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Bangladesh

18,000 children drown every year

25% of the country floods each monsoon season

29 people saved by SeaSafe lifeguards in 2017

60 firefighters trained in flood rescue in 2017