Drowning incidents pose serious challenge in Madhes

Janakpurdham, Mar. 6: On September 23, 2023, 11-year-old Dhiraj Kumar Mahato of Bateshwar Rural Municipality of Dhanusha drowned in a bucket-water ditch created on the bank of the Bighi River. 

On September 15, 2023, 17-month-old Rohan Mukhiya died in Lohna, Janakpurdham Sub-Metropolitan City, as there was no cover in the local canal constructed in front of his house. 

Similarly, on June 11, 2021, five girls drowned in an under-construction pond at Mukhiyapatti Musaraniya Rural Municipality of Dhanusha. On August 5, 2017, four children drowned in stagnant water in a ditch dug by a construction company in Rautahat. 

These are just the reference to how drowning has been a serious issue in Madhes Province and the other provinces where big ditches are dug and left abandoned for many months, even years. 

According to a record of 2019 of the WHO, more than 1,500 drowning deaths occurred in Nepal; 31.8 per cent of them were children under five. Drowning is the 10th major cause of death for children of this age group. In other words, drowning kills nearly 18 per 100,000 children below five years every year in Nepal, more than whooping cough, malnutrition, measles and tetanus. Drowning is the cause of 2.8 per cent of the under five child mortality in Nepal.

Globally, drowning is considered a silent killer of children under five, who make the highest percentage of total drownings. According to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, 47,800 children under five years died worldwide from drowning in 2018. 

The lack of a national drowning database prevents more detailed knowledge about drownings. However, Nepal Police keeps records of unnatural deaths. 

According to Nepal Police statistics, 2,500 people have drowned in the last three years.   Of the total number, 501 people have died in Lumbini Province, 499 in Madhes Province, 461 in Koshi, 456 people in Karnali, 335 in Bagmati, 200 in Sudur Paschim and only 73 have died in the Valley (Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur).

According to the figures, if we look at the number of deaths due to drowning, Madhes Province is in the second place. In Madhes, more than 150 people die every year due to drowning.

Similarly, according to the data of the Madhes Police Office, most of the drowning deaths are children, and the number of children is also higher.

According to the data of Madhes Police Office, 80 people have died in all the eight districts as of mid-February, 2024. And out of this, 39 were children. Also, in the fiscal year 2022/23, 155 persons drowned and of them, 81 were children and 48 were male children. Similarly, in the fiscal year 2021/22, 190 persons drowned in Madhes Province, and of them, 104 were children, and 63 were male children.  

Likewise, 154 persons were killed in the fiscal year 2020/21 and of them, 126 were children. In the fiscal year 2019/2020, 105 children died out of 150 drowning incidents. Also, in 2018/19, 104 children died of drowning out of 148 incidents. 

In 2017/18, there were 64 boys out of 104 children of the 148 people drowned. In 2016/17, 54 were boys of 93 children out of 162 people drowned. A year earlier, out of 147 deaths, 90 were children with 58 boys. 

Speakers at a policy dialogue programme organised by the Nepal Madhes Foundation in Janakpurdham on Sunday (March 3) to solve the problem of drowning were of the views that the government is unable to tackle drowning. 

The speakers of the programme said that legal provisions should be made to prevent the increasing number of drowning deaths.  They said that all three levels of the government should be serious in order to prevent such problems arising due to unnatural activities done by humans. 

 Madhes Province Assembly member Ram Ashish Yadav, said that the problem is getting worse day by day because the government is not taking such problems seriously. 

 He said that even though water is life, such problems are arising due to human-induced activities and lack of public awareness. Yadav said that most of the drowning victims are children from the poor and Dalit communities. Stating that the government should look carefully at the problem of drowning, lawmaker Yadav said that the problem of drowning should be included in the Disaster Management Agreement, so the government at all levels should act by making laws.

Likewise, UNICEF representative Kamdev Khanal said that drowning should also be considered as an integral part of disaster management. Khanal said that these problems are increasing because the government at all three levels is not paying attention to it.

No law, policy or strategy has been made in Nepal so far for death due to drowning. According to the manual of the Central Fisheries Promotion and Conservation Centre published in 2020, the number of public and private ponds across Nepal is 45,936. Out of this, 18,098 ponds are in Madhes only. About 40 per cent of the total number of ponds are in Madhes.

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