DHAKA (Reuters Life!) - Child deaths by drowning have reached the proportion of an epidemic in Asia, with nearly 20,000 boys and girls dying in water each year in Bangladesh alone -- and the number keeps rising, studies say.
But some of the worst-hit countries are banding together to save the lives of young people, mostly children between the age of 1 to 17, with a three-day workshop scheduled to meet in Dhaka from next Saturday to hammer out strategies and reduce the toll.
An estimated 350,000 children drown in Asia every year, said Aminur Rahman, director of the International Drowning Research Center - Bangladesh (IDRC-B), the world's first to focus on combating child drowning in low to middle-income nations.
"Child drowning is a hidden epidemic in Asia and the issue goes largely under-reported," he said in a statement on Thursday. "The rate of drowning in Asia is around 20 times higher than in other developed countries," Aminur said.
"It's such a tragedy when a young life is taken away too early."
Experts, policy makers in the health and injury prevention fields from countries such as Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, Denmark and Bangladesh will gather in Dhaka.
Representatives from government agencies, development partners and national and international NGOs will also take part.
Bangladesh is criss-crossed by hundreds of rivers and canals that still serve as the main ways of transporting people and goods, while the floods that sweep the country almost every year is a boon for its agriculture.
But they also take many lives that the government and agencies like the IDRC-B are trying to protect.
Preventive measures like teaching older children how to swim and the supervision of younger children can save some, but this alone is not enough.
"We simply have to do more to protect the children from drowning," said Aminur, a Bangladeshi.
"We need to learn from what we know works and scale the interventions up in Bangladesh and also adapt them for the whole of Asia," Aminur said.
The IDRC-B is supported by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and works with the Alliance for Safe Children (TASC) and Royal Life Saving Society Australia (RLSSA).
Reporting by Serajul Islam Quadir; Editing by Anis Ahmed