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Australian Lifesavers Aim to Cut Drowning Deaths in Asia

  • Phil Mercer

Australia's Royal Lifesaving Society will establish the world's first international drowning research center in Bangladesh. The goal is to cut the number of drowning deaths in Asia, where it is estimated a child dies in the water every 45 seconds during daylight hours.

Last year 50 children drowned in Australia, while in Asia as many as 350,000 drowned. This loss of life, described by Australian experts as a "hidden epidemic", prompted them to take their expertise to Asia.

Next month Australia's Royal Lifesaving Society will open the world's first International Drowning Research Center in Bangladesh. The society hopes the center can teach communities rescue and resuscitation methods. It will be a joint project involving the government-sponsored development agency, AusAID.

Australian lifesavers say that half the drowning victims under the age of five in Asia die within a few meters of their home, in rice paddies, animal troughs, ponds or even in large cooking or water pots. Even the journey home from school can be perilous if children must skirt ponds and traverse rivers.

Australian instructors also will travel across the region to teach children how to swim. Justin Scarr, the chief operating officer of the Australian Royal Lifesaving Society, hopes the initiative will save lives.

"It was very clear at that point that the very, very basic things that Australians take for granted such as, you know, basic rescue and CPR [cardio-pulmonary resuscitation] resuscitation skills were absent in many communities across Asia," he noted. "So we're working very, very hard to build the, you know, the survival reflexes at a community level that will help in that situation and that's the core purpose of the International Drowning Research Center and we're of course very pleased that the Australian government is a strong partner in this venture."

An Australian-run project has already taught water safety to 40,000 children in Bangladesh. Australia's Royal Lifesaving Society SwimSafe initiative also helps communities in Thailand and Vietnam, which will hold a World Conference on Drowning Prevention in 2011.

The society is more than 100 years old and is considered one of the world's leading water safety organizations.