Kolkata: West Bengal’s Sundarbans region has recorded the world’s highest drowning mortality rate of 243 per lakh population among children in the age group of one to four in three years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study. The study, which was conducted from 2016 to 2019, also found that the region has a mortality rate of 38.8 per lakh population among children aged between five and nine. The study was conducted in 19 blocks – 13 in South 24 Parganas district and six in North 24 Parganas – of the region on incidents reported from October 2016 to September 2019. It was recently published.
There was no difference in the mortality rates among boys and girls. Most children drowned in ponds within 50 metres of their homes when they were unaccompanied by their primary caretakers who were engaged in household work.
The survey was carried out by non-governmental organisation Child in Need Institute (CINI), in partnership with global agencies Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and The George Institute (TGI) to gauge the enormity of the problem of drowning among children in the coastal Sundarbans region.
Sundarbans is a mangrove region in southeastern part of West Bengal and southwestern region of Bangladesh.
In the Indian part, Sundarbans is spread over 100 islands and has around 40 lakh inhabitants. Of the total population, around 15.9 per cent are children aged between one and nine.
Many settlements are remote and far away from medical establishments. Water level in the waterbodies of Sundarbans increase during monsoon, while the coastal region is also increasingly experiencing incidents of flooding over the last four to five years.
West Bengal’s Sundarbans Affairs Minister Bankim Chandra Hazra acknowledged the problem of drowning of children and said that the state government is trying to address the issue. He said,
We have no hesitation in admitting that there have been incidents of deaths of children by drowning. However, we do not have a detailed report.
According to the minister, the call of the hour is to raise the level of awareness among the residents of Sundarbans on drowning like they were informed about dengue, malaria or child marriage. The minister further said,
Every year, we are losing several young lives due to drowning. People need to be informed in this regard to address this problem.
CINI’s national advocacy officer Sujoy Roy said that the survey will help not only locals but also highlight the situation before policymakers. Mr Roy,
Drowning deaths, particularly among children, are heart-wrenching and entirely preventable. It is imperative that governments take heightened responsibility to protect our children from this silent peril. This study will help the local people as well as the government to understand how critical the situation is and realise the need to frame a policy in this regard.
He said that the first-ever national seminar on drowning prevention was jointly organised by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram in September.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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