Apart from its importance for drinking and performing other domestic chores, water has recreational value to people. For many people, no relaxation and fun experience is complete without a visit to swimming pools, water parks, rivers, or beaches. The problem however is that on many occasions, such has turned from enjoyment to regret as witnessed in many tragic stories of individuals who have died from drowning. Victory Bernard writes on improving water safety consciousness.
Sad tale of loss
A World Health Organisation (WHO) report showed that 372,000 people die yearly from drowning, out of which over half of all the drowning deaths occur among people under 25 years. Thus drowning has become one of the 10 leading causes of death for people in this age group.
To bring this home, a famous Nigerian television reality show was suspended in 2007 after a contestant drowned during preparation for the programme. Anthony Ogadje, 25, and five other contestants had gone to Sphere Hills Lake in Plateau State to prepare for the show when he got drowned in a river he was supposed to cross. It was quite unfortunate that all attempts to revive the victim by attendant medical team and the life-guards, including his fellow contestants, failed.
Also, seven members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) drowned in a river Taraba State when they went on a swimming expedition in River Mayo-Selbe, a major tributary of the Benue River.
In April 2018, a Nigerian final year student of Computer Science, ISFOB Benin University, Aliyu Abubakar drowned in a beach in Cotonou just few weeks to his graduation. In August of the same year, a public administration student of the Federal Polytechnic, Ekowe, Bayelsa State, identified as Adekunle drowned in a river close to the school when he went to fetch water due to lack of water on the campus.
In yet another incident, in May, a 100-level student of at the University of Uyo, Kingsley Etim, drowned in the swimming pool of DeVagas paradise hotel in Uyo during a pool party.
These unfortunate incidents clearly show the need for a clear understanding of water safety.
Water safety involves the procedures, precautions and policies associated with safety in, on and around bodies of water, where there is a risk of injury or drowning. It has applications in several occupations, sports and recreational activities.
However, the rate of fatalities that have occurred in recreational areas has shown the lack of management and know-how in this area of water safety. Hence the reason this article was written.
WHO further said that this menace is preventable only if the government of all nations can develop a national water plan which would provide strategic direction and a framework to guide multi-sectoral efforts to prevent drowning. The question, however, is: how many nations, including Nigeria, is taking steps towards putting a stop to this needless loss of lives?
Therefore, it behooves every individual, especially lovers of the aqua-world, to take necessary safety precautions to stay safe around open water.
Ignorance – Cause Of Death
There are many causes of deaths in water bodies but a major one as identified by a marine and water safety expert, Dr. Wilson Arikpo, is ignorance.
In a chat with Safety Record, a former spokesman of the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPON) said that fear was a result of lack of knowledge of safety skills which has led to deaths around water bodies.
“One word I hope will capture it all is ignorance. Another word, which is an offshoot of ignorance, is hydrophobia,” he explained.
He added, “There could be so many other causes of death in water bodies, but whatever causes death can be summarised in the fact that what you don’t know, you don’t know and ignorance produces phobia, which is why many are afraid of water.
“Do you realise that many fun seekers who go to the beach are afraid of water, yet they want to play or celebrate around the shoreline?
Recalling an incident, he said, “I recall an incident during the screening for a reality show when a young lady claimed she could swim, yet she started screaming for help the moment she jumped into the water.
“Fear overtook her. Over-confident people who can swim but are bereft of basic water safety knowledge are also very susceptible to death in water.
“Hydrophobia must be overcome, but only by knowledge. The requisite knowledge will crush ignorance and build confidence; with confidence you will not fret in or around water.
“I love to remind people that we drink water and take our bath with water every day, so there is nothing dangerous about water itself.”
He also linked death in water to alcohol and drugs.
“I do not have statistics, but I do know that another factor is the influence of drugs and alcohol usage while swimming.
“It impacts negatively on swimmers, but people indulge in all of that due to ignorance of its effect on them.”
Poor standards around swimming facility
Safety Record recalls the unfortunate incident of an undergraduate who died during a poolside party for his friends in a hotel, where they swam late into the night.
The hotel’s CCTV camera showed that his friends watched him struggle as he drowned but they failed to raise an alarm.
Arikpo stated that such incidents could have been avoided if standards were maintained around swimming facilities.
He said, “One major area where people love to go for their swimming spree is at bar pools. Unfortunately, there have been reports of the death of students at such places.
“Some people have drowned in rather avoidable circumstance even in swimming pools owing mostly to lack of adequate safety standards by the facilities owners.
“We have read of incidences where people drown in swimming pools in hotels. That should never happen.”
He added that “Every swimming pool should be well-marked and adequately cordoned against unintended users, and must conform to safety standards with well-trained lifeguards who monitor the activities of fun-seekers and users of the facility.
“Patrons of the facility must be supervised because a fun seeker could get excited and attempt very dangerous things.
“Safety issues cannot be taken for granted, which is why you are made to listen to the safety moments every time you board an aircraft or standard vessel (ship), even if you are their regular passenger or you had boarded the aircraft earlier on the same day.
“Similarly, recreational facilities users must first be given safety induction as a pre-condition for using the facility.”
He further said, “If there was strict adherence to safety standards of not swimming at night; If there was a lifeguard on duty; If there was adequate signage; If there was adherence to the principles of water safety; If there was a safety induction moment; If the young men were not high on something; If all the IFs were taken care of, the young man could not have drowned.
“I remember how I practically saved the lives of some young people who wanted to dive into a swimming pool in one prominent hotel without reading the signage, which clearly showed that the pool was a shallow one with the deepest section only six feet deep. Diving headlong into a six feet deep pool is disastrous because your head will definitely make contact with the floor of the pool.”
Arikpo explained that swimming facility managers must also provide incident logbooks for supervising authorities to check appropriately.
The safety expert reiterated that potential swimmers must be knowledgeable about the necessary precautions to take before diving into uncertain waters.
“For obvious reasons, you should never swim alone, but in a group of at least two.
“It is advisable to wait at least one hour after eating. It is very important to take notice of signage.
“Every aquatic facility should have signs with large, legible instructions that can be read from a distance, with rules, warnings and information concerning the depths of the water and other potential dangers or hazards inherent in the facility.”
He added, “Never, ever swim at night, especially where there is poor lighting. Do not drink alcohol before swimming. Do not push or force others underwater, because such horseplay has resulted in fatalities. You should not be involved in unnecessary stunts.
“It is safer to always swim beside the edge where rescue will be easier and possible in the event of loss of strength or consciousness.
“When in open water body, it is advisable to keep away from boats, fishing nets and weeds, which is why it is better not to swim too far off. Get out when cold before hypothermia sets in.
“You must not dive headlong (that is reserved for professionals who understand whether the terrain is charted or not). Rather, it is safer to jump with your feet first and only where and when it is safe. Some people have cracked or knocked their heads against hard objects and died.”
He said it was imperative to always wear a personal flotation device (life jackets) when without an instructor or lifeguard.
Also speaking with Safety Record, Scientific Officer 1, Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Hajia Salamatu Yusuf explained that there was lack of skilled personnel who knew how to resuscitate victims.
Identifying points to note around open water, she said, “One should be prepared to interact with water and conquer fear of water.
“Non-professional swimmers should always have their lifejackets on. Never go alone. Avoid going near water where the edges are slippery. There should always be a bill to indicate depth of pool.
“A trained personnel should always be present to rescue and resuscitate a victim in case of eventualities.
“Flotation device should be provided at the pool. Poolside should be maintained and kept clean all the time.
“Most open water bodies are unprotected. Children, animals and even adults have had cases of drowning in open water bodies.
“The water should be protected to minimise unauthorised exploit of the water resources and also preserve life.”
‘Water safety should be incorporated into school curriculum’
Arikpo said that to proactively reduce drowning incidents to the barest minimum, more needed to be done by the government to impart knowledge and engender participation from the citizenry.
He equally explained that although there was plethora of policies in Nigeria but the National Orientation Agency needed to engage in better advocacy to increase awareness.
Arikpo stated, “When ignorance is allowed to rule the mind and requisite training is taken for granted, disaster is inevitable because like the Bible says in Hosea 4:6 ‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge… Thank God for His grace upon Nigeria.”
He added, “The antidote is training, training and more training. The government owes the citizenry the duty of raising the awareness level, especially as people do not need to go to the beach or pool before they drown.
“There is nothing wrong in incorporating water safety in our school curricula, seeing that the 853km stretch of Nigeria’s coastline alone runs through seven Southern States; all bordering on the Atlantic Ocean.
“When you now include the stretch of the Rivers Niger and Benue, plus the Lake Chad and other water bodies in Nigeria, you will understand that the government needs to pay more attention to water safety in Nigeria.
“Thank God that we are a blessed Nation without natural disasters, but there is the need to be proactive and be ready with adequate knowledge of Emergency Preparedness and Business Continuity Plan before any unforeseen situation happens. Like the saying goes, “To be forewarned is to be forearmed”.