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High death toll from drowning among children in South Asia’s floods

While Thailand has been receiving much of the media’s attention as it battles to keep floods from reaching the centre of Bangkok, flooding across South Asia continues to cause misery and a rising death doll.

According to the United Nations, an “alarming” number of children are among the dead. In Vietnam, which is experiencing extensive flooding along the Mekong delta, 57 of the country’s 65 deaths (since August) are of children, according to the national flood and storms control department. In Cambodia, more than 80 children have died due to the heavy rains and flooding and in Thailand, the death toll is 50.

The majority of these child fatalities are from drowning. Though many families live close to water, such as those along the Mekong River, a high proportion of children never learn to swim. One of the representatives of the United Nations Children’s Agency (UNICEF) has said that drowning is responsible for the largest number of child deaths in this type of disaster situation and warned “it takes only a few minutes for a child to be swallowed by powerful river streams”. The UN has said that preventing further drowning fatalities is now a priority. Aid organisations such as UNICEF and Save the Children are therefore giving out life vests, buoys, floating bags and boats to affected communities.

A worker attached to CARE International describes being taken through the flood waters along the Mekong Delta in south west Vietnam. Here, there is up to 6 metres of water in some places and many houses have been submerged. Families from these dwellings have been moved to higher ground, while those in partially-flooded houses have to remain in their homes. Schools across the region have been closed to stop children travelling through unsafe and unpredictable floodwaters.

Even though unnecessary journeys can be prevented to lower the risk of children drowning, aid agencies across South Asia are concerned about the spread of disease from standing water and unsafe sanitation. The first cases of cholera have already been reported in Cambodia. And malnourished children in poor rural communities are particularly vulnerable to sickness and diarrhoea.

In Cambodia, it is estimated that the flooding is currently affecting around 250,000 people in the three worst-hit provinces, while another 250,000 are affected in Vietnam. Added to this are the almost 2.5 million people affected countrywide across Thailand. It had been hoped that the situation there might begin to ease, but floodwater continues to flow slowly south and more districts of Bangkok are now threatened.

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