Provincial leaders sign pact to reduce child drowning

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About ten Vietnamese children continue to drown every day; concerned agencies scramble to address the crisis

A group of children play by the Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. Concerned agencies are seeking to reduce drowning rates among children in Vietnam as about ten children die of drowning every single day of the year on an average.

Two children drowned on July 11 while picking snails with their grandmother on a riverbank in the south-central Khanh Hoa Province.

Nguyen Thi Trang Nha, 14, and her younger sister, Nguyen Thi Anh Huyen, 10, fell into a deep underwater hole along the bank of the Tac River in Nha Trang's Phuoc Dong Commune.

Neither child could swim.

The sisters' horrible end is just a piece in a larger tragedy: about ten Vietnamese children die from drowning every single day. It is the leading cause of injury-related deaths in children and adolescents in Vietnam. Official statistics found that over 3,500 children and adolescents, aged 0-19, died from drowning nationwide in 2008.

"[Drowning] accounts for about 50 percent of injury-related mortalities among children and adolescents," said Jean Dupraz, UNICEF Acting Representative in Vietnam, told a conference in Hanoi on July 16. The conference was aimed at building a communications campaign to battle the epidemic.

"They die close to their homes and close to their playgrounds, often left alone without adult supervision and care," Dupraz said. "Compared to other countries in the region, Vietnam has the highest fatal drowning rate. This reflects the extent of the problem in Vietnam, which requires urgent and strong action from all of us."

"Evidence has shown that creating a safe environment for children can help to save them from drowning," he said.

Seeking solutions

At the conference, the leaders of 15 provinces where the problem is most acute signed a commitment to reducing child drowning cases.

The leaders pledged to raise community awareness about the urgent demand to prevent drowning deaths and call for the urgent action from families, community and local leaders to address the issue. In the meantime, representatives from the central government pledged their full support.

"The Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs will cooperate with other ministries and mass organizations to guide and monitor the implementation of child drowning prevention activities in the 15 provinces with the highest rate of child drowning" said Dam Huu Dac, Deputy Minister of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs.

"It's important that all children and adolescents live in safe and secure environments", he added.

Dupraz said UNICEF would continue to aid Vietnam in the prevention of child drowning.

"We will continue to work closely with the government in its efforts to protect children from injury in general and from drowning in particular", he said.

Over the last couple of years UNICEF has continued to play its part by supporting the government of Vietnam in its efforts. Recently, they helped fund programs to teach children how to swim and perform first-aid.

The Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs reported that other countries have succeeded in reducing drowning casualties by building fences, covering water jars, and stressing child supervision.

Positive examples are found in cities and provinces such as Da Nang, An Giang, Dong Thap, where due to leadership commitment, regular swimming classes are offered to children in addition to other prevention activities. The measures have helped to dramatically reduce the number of child drowning deaths in those provinces in recent years, the ministry said.

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