Swimming against the tide
Several villages in the country have been submerged following heavy rains. The floodwater has got into houses and buildings, trapping families in their villages, damaging property and killing livestock. Roads have been swamped with water. Things have been washed away.
During a flood, families who live near rivers and lakes need to be very careful, particularly with children who are at greater risk of drowning.
When watching a group of children on a news programme having fun playing in a river close to their home, it worried me that they would get swallowed by the river. It was overflowing and ran very quickly and could've swept them away.
Drowning ranks first among the leading causes of unintentional morbidity among Thai children aged 14 or younger. The death rate is double that of traffic accidents and 24 times higher than dengue fever.
According to the Ministry of Public Health, last year 1,049 children died from drowning, accounting for about three deaths per day. Most of them were boys. It was found that about 50% of children who died from drowning didn't have any swimming skills.
A survey showed that only 16% of Thai children under 15 are able to swim. It could be said that a lack of swimming ability is a risk factor for drowning.
Unintentional drowning that causes heartbreak is preventable. To help reduce the risk, I encourage parents to enrol their children in formal swimming lessons. The courses will help them learn to be comfortable with water and the swimming skills will give them confidence and a greater chance of survival.
I consider swimming an essential life skill. The danger of the water is everywhere and children can accidentally fall into water at any time. Drowning occurs quickly and quietly in just few minutes, even if an instructor or a parent is present. I remember a news report about the deaths of two sisters who drowned in a pool while their mother went to the toilet. In order to develop swimming competency, it's important for children to take a full swimming programme that includes different levels. Children who have only completed levels two to three may have learned to just splash about in a pool and blow bubbles. In fact, proper breathing technique for swimming takes many lessons for some children to learn, not to mention leg kicking and stroke techniques. I don't mean they need to swim as fast as Michael Phelps, but they need to learn to develop important swimming skills that can be useful in a dangerous situation. Taking a more advanced course, will give them a chance to learn about water safety skills, and water-related illnesses and how to prevent them. Also, they will be given knowledge of how to help a person who is drowning.
A swimming instructor with whom I discussed drowning among children told me a lot of kids didn't keep up with the lessons due to their parents' unawareness of swimming skills and their attitude. Many of them don't fully realise the importance of this lifelong skill, while many don't encourage their children to be committed to their practise and then invite them to try a new form of recreational activity that gains greater popularity.
Swimming is a "minimalist" sport that doesn't cost much. It requires little equipment and season membership is relatively cheap. Neighbourhood pools provide easy access to parents and children. On top of that, children gain many health benefits and improve their fitness when they are engaged in regular swimming practise.
The government has developed short-term protective measures to deal with this issue. It's about time that they took it seriously. One thing that they should do is include swimming lessons on the physical education curriculum and that would give children a greater chance to get involved in this sport. It would be more effective if they define a minimum level of swimming skills that children should reach at different ages.
Investing in public pools where children can learn and practise swimming and in the employment of highly trained instructors is also a must. I consider this a good investment that will bring dividends in the future.
Investing in swimming programmes brings more benefits for children than the government's "one tablet per child" programme that has caused more trouble than it's worth.
Sukhumaporn Laiyok is a reporter for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.