Ignorance Regarding Water Safety Reason for Increase in Drownings – SLLS
By Eunice Ruth
Even with the travel restrictions in place and lockdowns as a result of COVID-19, the numbers of those drowning have not reduced and sometimes even increased due to the ignorance that exists among the public regarding water safety, said President of Sri Lanka Life Saving (SLLS), Asanka Nanayakkara.
“Lack of awareness among the public regarding water safety is a major reason for an increase in drowning. While we think that only travelling and other adventurous activities will cause drowning, it is not like that and currently, due to the lockdown and quarantine curfews, people who live in rural areas start cultivations and engage in other domestic activities, which call for working alongside rivers, lakes and other waterways. While working in such an environment some people die of drowning due to carelessness, while suicides are also seen in some areas,” said Nanayakkara.
He said that, drowning annually takes more than 755 to 800 lives and 79 per cent of such deaths occurred in waterways such as canals, lakes, lagoons, rivers and wells, while, the remaining 21% occur at sea and involve adults aged 24 to 44. Also, the commonest circumstance was accidents (57.6%) followed by suicide (22%) while in 20.3% of cases the circumstances were unascertainable, he added. He also said that the Western Province had the highest number of deaths by drowning with 168 while males had a consistently higher drowning ratio than females.
In Sri Lanka, drowning is considered the main cause of accidental deaths among children aged between 1 and 14, with various types of injuries and it also ranks third when considering the deaths of all age categories, he said. In the Central, North Central and North Western Provinces, lakes and other waterways were the top locations for drowning, while, the sea was the top location for drowning in the Eastern, Southern and Western Provinces. Additionally, canals were the most dangerous locations for drowning in the Uva and Sabaragamuwa Provinces and wells were found to be the most dangerous place in the Northern Province.
According to the Drowning Prevention Report of Sri Lanka 2020, the prime reasons for such accidents and deaths have been identified as lack of water safety knowledge, negligence, ignorance, consumption of alcohol and lack of usage of safety equipment, and found that the general public is not aware of the safe places to enjoy themselves during weekends using the coastal line of the country.
He further said environmental factors such as rough seas, sudden rise of water levels, floods and water sources of unknown depths were some of the causes that contributed towards drowning while being drunk was often cited as a reason for people failing to make safe decisions when choosing an area to socialise.
In order to reduce drowning in Sri Lanka, a National Advisory Committee has been appointed to develop a National Drowning Prevention and Water Safety Plan (National Action Plan) including risk profiling, developing national beach and pool safety operational guidelines, improving the swim for safety curriculum, identifying and promoting safe bathing and swimming zones, and developing a national drowning data surveillance system.
He noted that several programmes have been implemented to create awareness in this regard and to educate the public of the basic strategies of lifesaving. Several such programmes were organised by SLLS and one such programme which will help save the lives of others is “swim for safety”.
The SLLS has provided instructions which need to be followed when identifying a drowning person, stepping into the water as a group, safety measures which needs to be adhered to while bathing in sea areas and he requested the public to be mindful when stepping into a river as it can be more dangerous these days due to the heavy rains that are being experienced in many parts of the Island at present.
Also, he explained the steps which need to be followed while saving a person from drowning. First it is always better to save a drowning person by using a piece of floating equipment rather than getting into the water themselves. Once you get them out, first-aid must be administered immediately by turning the person over on to their back, and then checking the airway for signs the person is breathing. If they are not breathing you need to commence Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) by performing 30 chest compressions and two rescue breaths.
“The public should be made aware of waterway risks and accidents, and they should follow proper precautionary measures to keep themselves safe. They should also be trained in measures which will be useful to save others from drowning or other waterway accidents,” he said.
He said the SLLS has expanded its services by providing its services on weekends and public holidays and especially during the festive season, across the country, by adding new service clubs with over 2,300 operationally qualified lifeguards and assigning them to over 90 open water locations.