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Australian lifesavers to tackle Asia's child -

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Australian lifesavers to tackle Asia's child drowning toll

Nicole Butler reported this story on Wednesday, February 10, 2010 12:41:00

ELEANOR HALL: Last year 50 children drowned in Australia. In Asia the number was 350,000.

Now a number of Australian lifesavers have been so moved by the enormous number of children who'd
die in the water overseas that they've decided to take their expertise beyond our beaches.

Next month the Royal Lifesaving Society will launch the world's first International Drowning
Research Centre in Asia, as Nicole Butler reports.

NICOLE BUTLER: It's estimated during the daylight hours in Asia a child drowns every 45 seconds.

Justin Scarr is chief operating officer of the Australian Royal Lifesaving Society.

JUSTIN SCARR: It puts it as the number one killer of children over the age of one through to 17.
It's a significant public health issue. It's a public health issue that's escaped attention for
many years primarily because the child who drowns in rural Asia very, very rarely gets to the

They drown within moments, they're buried within hours and as a consequence they don't get counted
by many of the world's international development agencies that guide various development

NICOLE BUTLER: He says child drowning deaths have become an horrific epidemic across Asia.

JUSTIN SCARR: Fifty per cent of children under the age of five who drown, drown within 10 metres of
the home. In a rural context in Asia water is literally everywhere. You've got agricultural
ventures such as rice farming, you've got livestock being watered in the family compound and you've
also got large cooking vessels that carry water.

The issue is predominantly about supervision but for the older children who venture further afield
it's about arming them with the important swimming and water safety skills that Australians know
and adopt on a regular basis.

NICOLE BUTLER: So Mr Scarr is leading the charge to do just that. Next month the Royal Lifesaving
Society in partnership with the Federal Government agency AusAID will open the world's first
International Drowning Research Centre in Bangladesh.

Australian lifesavers will travel across Asia to help teach children basic swimming skills and Mr
Scarr says more importantly the centre will roll out programs that teach communities how to reduce

JUSTIN SCARR: In terms of parental awareness, community awareness and building some community
resolve to implement strategies such as swimming lessons as you say but also things like creating
barriers to hazardous waterways, improving supervision techniques, making all children aware of
basics of water safety and basic rescue.

It's about enabling the community itself to identify the risks and hazards. Previously the research
shows that they took a very fatalistic view of drowning, they thought that it was inevitable and it
couldn't be prevented.

NICOLE BUTLER: The Australian lifesavers' chief operating officer says rescue and resuscitation
lessons will also be a priority.

JUSTIN SCARR: The most tragic thing that we found when we went into these communities, it was quite
often and certainly participated in some social autopsies where the child fell into the water, the
children witnessed that, they ran to the opposite end of the village, they grabbed the parents and
by the time the parents got back there were many people standing around watching this poor child

It was very clear at that point that the very, very basic things that Australians take for granted
such as, you know, basic rescue and CPR resuscitation skills were absent in many communities across
Asia. So we're working very, very hard to build the, you know, the survival reflexes at a community
level that will help in that situation and that's the core purpose of the International Drowning
Research Centre and we're of course very pleased that the Australian Government is a strong partner
in this venture.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Justin Scarr from the Australia's Royal Lifesaving Society. He was speaking to
Nicole Butler.