Here’s where I spotted a Cambodian girl looking like she was about to drown.
It was in a rice field. If it wasn’t for the picturesque scenery and two hands in the air, I may not have seen her.
I had only a couple of months earlier been to Bangladesh — another Asian country where too many children, in this instance a staggering 18,000 under the age of 17 — drown every year, and seen one successful drowning prevention programme in action.
But despite being given some stunning statistics, it wasn’t until I saw this girl struggling in the water that I truly realised the importance of such measures.
I was travelling to Lvea Em district in Kandal province, about 30 kilometres outside the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, for a work assignment with Sidara Nuon from the country’s Center for Human Rights (CCHR).
As soon as I spotted her, from the left side of a tuk tuk, I yelled out to the driver, and the vehicle came to a halt.
We all ran down to the water, all three of us ready to dive in after her, me leaving my bag, with my iPhone, computer, wallet and more back in the tuk tuk, in a desperate bid to reach her.
She looked like she was trying to do freestyle, but she couldn’t get her head above the water. Unable to yell out to her mother, who was up the other end of the field with some other people, it was obvious she was in trouble.
The driver, still wearing his jeans and top, got to her first and pulled her out. Thank God she was okay. The water had been very deep, he later said.
When her mother reached her, she burst into tears, as others huddled around them.
Sidara, the driver and I walked back up to the tuk tuk, got in it and continued our journey. The driver was still sopping wet, but this didn’t bother him one little bit.
Did he save the girl’s life? It’s quite likely he may have.
In Asia, people are drowning. Everywhere. All the time.
One child drowns every 45 seconds on the continent during daylight hours when many are swimming unsupervised, according to SwimSafe, a programme run by NGO Centre for Injury Prevention and Research Bangladesh (CIPRB).
Research shows that 95 per cent of all childhood drowning deaths occur in Asia, they say.
In Bangladesh, about 80 per cent of fatalities occur in ponds near homes where children may play, take a bath or wash their clothes unsupervised.
Drownings in Asia are in the news as much as road accidents, it seems. I have only been in Cambodia for a few months, but not a week goes by where I don’t read stories about drownings here.
In Bangladesh in September, the same week as the Safety 2016 conference in Finland, 35 people went missing in a ferry accident. Such incidents in the country are common.
But as Justin Scarr from The Royal Life Saving Society Australia (RLSSA),who have contributed to SwimSafe, points out, it is only in recent years that drowning has appeared “more frequently in global development conversations”.
since 2006, nearly half a million have learnt to swim in man-made and natural ponds modified with bamboo in rural areas, and portable pools in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, through SwimSafe.
We need to talk about drownings even more, but even more importantly, there needs to be more drowning prevention programmes in place.