Every 31 minutes a Bangladeshi child dies, not from malnutrition, not from disease but from drowning. To combat this startling statistic, the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh (CIPRB) created the SwimSafe program.

Bangladeshi life revolves around water yet many children lack even basic water safety awareness, and it’s proving to be fatal.

In 2005, the Bangladesh Health and Injury Survey revealed injury was the biggest killer of Bangladeshi children aged 1 to 17 years, around 30,000 a year, with drowning responsible for nearly 17,000 of those deaths. In the wake of these shocking figures, CIPRB and the SwimSafe program were born.

Unique to Bangladesh and developed in association with UNICEF, The Alliance for Safe Children (TASC), Royal Life Saving Society Australia (RLSSA) and the Bangladesh Swimming Federation (BSF), the SwimSafe program recruits and trains Community Swimming Instructors (CSI) to teach children aged 4-10 years survival swimming skills.

Through a 21-step process, children are taught to be confident in the water, to develop skills in swimming and floating and how to rescue somebody who is drowning. They are also taught to identify life-threatening water hazards.

In rural areas, classes are held in local ponds which are cordoned-off using specially designed bamboo structures. Inexpensive to construct and using local materials and labour, the structures mimic the boundaries of a swimming pool and have two sections: a shallow, fenced-off platform creating an artificial water depth of approx. 40 – 60cm which is used while the children gain confidence in the water, and a surrounding deeper section, approx. 12.5 metres across and also with a perimeter fence, which is used to expand on the students skills as well as test their swimming and floating abilities.

Aside from water quality and availability, the ponds are also chosen in relation to their close proximity to schools, health centers and other areas frequented by the community to encourage local interest in the project.

The CSIs build upon this exposure by delivering water safety messages direct to community members, school groups and at community events. The students themselves often become ambassadors for water safety, eager to pass on what they have learnt to their friends and family.

To graduate from the course, a child must prove they can tread water for 90 secs and swim unassisted in open water for at least 25 meters. This benchmark is both consistent with international early swimming standards and relevant to the Bangladesh environment.

Originally trialled in Savar, Bangladesh from September 2005 to August 2006, SwimSafe was considered so successful it was incorporated into CIPRB’s 3-year Prevention of Child Injuries through Social-intervention and Education (PRECISE) program  in Raiganj, Shepur Sadar, Manohardi and Mirpur, Dhaka.

To date the SwimSafe program has taught more than 130,000 children in Bangladesh vital water survival skills.

In 2010 the International Drowning Research Centre – Bangladesh (IDRC-B) was established in Dhaka. The centre is the first of its kind in the world and focuses on reducing child drowning in low and middle income countries through research.

From 2011, a number of developments will occur in the SwimSafe program. The installation of portable pools in urban and rural areas of Bangladesh is a new initiative for the country, and research will be carried out to determine their effectiveness in reducing child drowning. Furthermore, CIPRB is teaching children survival swimming in different upazilas of Sherpur, Rangpur and Cox’s Bazar, where CIPRB is providing technical assistance to two non-government organisations, Building Resources Across Communities (BRAC) and Centre for Mass Education in Science (CMES), to implement the SwimSafe program.

CIPRB, with assistance from BSF, also plans to train 590 new CSIs. At present, there are currently 404 CSIs working at 550 sites throughout Bangladesh.

Recent economic analysis of the SwimSafe program by CIPRB have shown it to be highly cost-effective and with the assistance of the Bangladeshi Government, CIPRB aims for it to become a national initiative.


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Preventing child drowning in Asia through teaching survival swimming skills

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