Drowning, a public health threat

Drowning, a public health threat

The body of a 23-year-old pregnant woman and her 49-year-old mother who were washed away by the flashflood at Dogarpang in Gangzor gewog, Lhuntse around 11pm on July 25 have not been found for almost a month now.

Lieutenant Colonel Karma Dorji, Superintendent of Monggar Police station, said that despite extensive search they have for now halted the search but have informed the authorities of Kurichhu dam to monitor.

Drowning otherwise also referred as accidental death is an issue in Bhutan with World Health Organization defining drowning as the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid.

Going by media reports every year, many lives are lost due to drowning. According to the records compiled by Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) from across the country over the span of three years from 2017 till July 31 this year, 63 lives were lost due to drowning.Of this, 35 of them were men, two women and 16 children. Children are particularly vulnerable and can drown in small water, which many do not perceive as dangerous water bodies.

In 2017, of the 31 cases of drowning, four bodies were not recovered while in 2018 all the bodies were retrieved and in 2019 two bodies were not recovered.

Project DANTAK was blamed for the death of a nine-year old boy who drowned in one of the pits the project had dug back in August 2015 in Rongthong in Trashigang.

Meanwhile on Wednesday afternoon, a 22-year old man was washed away by Amochu in Phuentsholing. The deceased along with his two other friends had gone for swimming when the deceased was washed away. An eye witness stated that he saw the body being carried across the border. Phuentsholing police in coordination with the Indian counterparts are searching for the body in their area. Police could not find the body.

Major Nima Tshering, Officer in-command (OC) at Thimphu police, said that if a case of drowning is reported on time then the body or the victim can be retrieved or saved. It is a matter of timely intervention. Citing an example, he said that they were able to retrieve the body of a 12-year-old girl who was washed away by Thimphuchhu after they were informed about the mishap immediately.

“Do not go near the riverside if you are not a swimmer especially during summer season as you never know when the water level will increase,” the OC said.

According to the police, most drowning cases are accidental in nature. The case ends up in final report to court, unless otherwise proved not to be accidental drowning.

Talking to Business Bhutan, Pema Singye the Officiating Director General of Department of Disaster Management (DDM), said that advisory messages on flood safety are issued every monsoon season through mainstream media and broadcast.

He also said that to reduce risks from various natural hazards it is important to practise safety measures in day-to-day life, thereby inculcating a culture of safety in the community.

Prevention efforts to prevent drowning in the future should focus advocacy on drowning risks to the school children and parents and better awareness among adults on the need for constant supervision of children and adolescents in and near the water.

“Information, education and communication materials for all hazards have been developed with concerned agencies and distributed in schools. In addition, awareness programs on dos and don’ts for all hazards including floods are carried out at the dzongkhag, community and school levels,” added Pema Singye.

According to the latest estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 320,000 people died in 2016 as a result of drowning in the world, making it one of the deadliest public health threats in the world. In many countries drowning is the leading cause of death after one year of age, and is also frequently the leading cause of death for children between 5-14 years old. More than 90% of drowning deaths occur in low-and middle-income countries.

Chencho Dema from Thimphu