Every day, at high tide, the village of Nonua Chora floods. The water rises rapidly; to the knees of the adults, and the necks of the children. The challenge of keeping your head above the water, in every sense of the term, is all too real for the families of Southern Bangladesh.
Nonua Chora is a village of 300 families. In the past 18 months alone, 12 of their children have drowned. Every 2 months, another life wasted, another death that could have been prevented.
It's not news that Bangladesh floods. Dense with deltas and people, the country is constrained by its climate, its landscape, its poverty. But what should be news, and isn't, is the magnitude of drowning deaths. Here, drowning is the number 1 killer of children. More child lives are lost in Bangladesh to drowning than malnutrition, meningitis, diarrhoea and pneumonia combined. 18,000 innocent lives lost each year, 50 drowning deaths each and every day.
Bangladesh is not alone - drowning is also devastating countries including Thailand, Cambodia and China - but it is acute. Of the 30 children we met in Nonua Chora, just 2 could swim. When we asked how many want to learn, a full house of hands were raised. Surrounded by water, these children, and millions more across Bangladesh and the world, lack the basic skills to survive.
The RNLI is dedicated to changing that. Globally, we're motivated by the fact that these deaths are unjust and by the fact that these deaths aren't inevitable. Encouragingly, a recent study in Bangladesh has shown that children who have swim skills are up to 96% more likely to survive in water than those without - at a cost of just a few pounds per child. Simple, scale-able solutions exist; swim skills, beach guarding, flood rescue, community supervision.
But that's just the beginning. We're working with our local partner, CIPRB, to create change across the country, from families to government departments. Developing the world's biggest drowning survey and the first ever drowning prevention plan - for an entire district and an entire country.
In five years' time, Bangladesh can be known not only for bearing the leading drowning burden but also leading the drowning solution, encouraging others governments to take action to end this global 'silent epidemic'. Then the lives of the children of Nonua Chora will not have been lost in vain.
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