Whilst working with the people of Botri to create a community risk map related to drowning, we sat down to speak with one of the village leaders. He explained to us what happens when people drown in the Nile at Botri; who the death is reported to (nobody unless the Civil Defence has to be asked to recover the body) and how the patterns of drowning have changed over the years that he has lived there. One significant change in drowning patterns happened between 1996 and 2000 when piped water was introduced to Botri, removing the need for people to visit the Nile on a daily basis to collect water for drinking, washing and bathing. I asked how many of the households in Botri now had access to piped water. “99 %” he replied. Nowadays, drowning deaths were mostly teenage boys who had gone to the Nile to swim with their friends.
The week before, when training lifeguards on the beach at Botri, we had driven through the mud brick production areas, where migrant workers dug up the earth from the banks of the Nile, mixed them with water and formed them into bricks which were dried in the sun and then fired in kilns. Brick production is a key industry in Botri. What confused me about my conversation was that I had seen the tiny brick huts topped with palm leaves, sheets of plastic or pieces of fabric which housed most of the brick workers and I was pretty sure that they didn’t have piped water.
I asked about the brick makers. “Oh, they are not from Botri” said the village leader. Here was a population similar in size to the town itself that was in daily contact with the water. They were a community that had been entirely dismissed because they were not from the local area and were not related to the main families of Botri. And yet, they are most likely at much greater risk of drowning due to their regular exposure to the river.
Drowning truly is a hidden epidemic. Even within a small community, those at greatest risk may not be counted.