Viet Nam: Children learn to swim and to survive
Throughout the year, an average of 10 children and adolescents drown each day, according to the Ministry of Health.
To reduce the number of deaths and injuries, the government has teamed up with NGOs to launch pilot programmes in the southern provinces, where children are taught how to swim and cope during the annual floods.
Thirteen-year old Nguyen Van Qui is a member of a club in Cai Lay District, Tien Giang Province, supported by Save the Children, and is learning what to do before, during and after a flood or a storm. He and his fellow trainees are then encouraged to pass their knowledge and skills on to schoolmates and family members.
Nguyen Van Gia, head of disaster management at Save the Children, told IRIN from Hanoi the club was breaking new ground.
Putting children in a position to teach other children - and their elders as well - is not the norm in Vietnam, where education can be rigid and hierarchical.
"We try to emphasize that children can do a lot of work and have the right to do some leading. At the beginning they said: 'They're children. How do they know?'" Gia said, but people have since come around.
The province was badly flooded in 2000, and 45 people died, nearly all of them children.
"There was water everywhere. We didn't have the [swimming] programme, and mostly children drowned," said Dang Van Hung, the provincial official responsible for primary schools. "It would have changed a lot."
According to a joint World Health Organization/UN Children's Fund report entitled World Report on Child Injury Prevention, most drowning deaths in low- and middle-income countries happen during daily activities - playing, washing, collecting water, or even crossing water to reach school.
Many people tend to dismiss the risks annual flooding may pose, Hung said. "They grow up with water; they live on the water. They say they know everything, so they don't pay much attention [to safety and preparedness in the event of flooding]."
The government has tried public awareness programmes in the past, but with little success. Teachers hope the new programmes will help save lives.
"Newspapers didn't work, and the local government didn't talk with schools. When they held flood meetings, people were busy. Now children study the safety recommendations and talk with their parents," said Ly Thi Truc Phuong, who teaches children's flood safety at a primary school. The project is supported by the Bangkok-based Asia Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC).
Students are taught boat safety, and how to move their families to mezzanine level, or to securely tie their wood or thatch homes to the ground. They are advised to boil or strain drinking water, keep food dry, and avoid throwing rubbish into the water.
"We know we have to prepare food, medicine, take care of the house and prepare the boat," said 12-year-old Dang Vi Khanh, who is part of the ADPC programme.
The APDC and Save the Children programmes are still in their pilot phases, but wider implementation in schools is the goal. "This is the pilot phase. If it works well, the education department will implement it," Hung said.
UNICEF is planning in the few months to meet local leaders from 15 provinces with the highest rates of child drowning to discuss solutions to this issue.