September 14, 2009 / 6:32 AM / 10 years ago

In Bangladesh, swimming is life insurance for children

NARSINGDI, Bangladesh (Reuters Life!) - For most children, swimming is a fun activity, but in flood-prone Bangladesh, where over 17,000 children drown each year, it can mean the difference between life and death.

A non-governmental organization, with the help of a group of Australian lifeguards, is teaching as many Bangladeshi children as possible to swim to reduce a fatality rate that children’s fund UNICEF says is one of the highest in the world.

“Every child that you teach to swim, is a child that will not drown,” Australian swimming coach Jess Moss told a group of Bangladeshi swimming instructors, who will then go back to their villages and train the local children.

The swimming instructors are part of a training programme run by the non-governmental Center for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh (CIPRB), with help from UNICEF, to teach swimming to children aged between four to 10 years.

Since it began in 2005, the programme has taught over 30,000 children, with Australia’s Royal Life Saving Society sending over instructors recently to give advanced training to the Bangladeshi swimming teachers.

“Bangladesh is particularly prone to floods and it has got water everywhere and drowning is today a major killer of children up to the age of 17,” said Brithe Locatelli-Rossi, chief of UNICEF Bangladesh’s health and nutrition section.

“With some technical assistance from Australia, we have trained people, who today, as master trainers, are teaching children in villages. It’s survival swimming.”

With no swimming pools in villages, children are taught how to swim in murky ponds ringed by bamboo frames for safety.

Kamran ul Baset, the national coordinator of CIPRB, said their programme was literally a life-saver.

“Death from drowning is really a big issue for Bangladesh. But if we taught a baby to swim, or even stay afloat, for 90 seconds, we would save a life,” he said.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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