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For Natalia’s sake, let’s all learn to swim

Published: 
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
A lifeguard on patrol at Maracas Bay recently. PHOTO: ABRAHAM DIAZ

The drowning of four-year-old Natalia Samuel in Columbus Bay on Sunday is another tragic reminder of the number of people, young and old, who die on our beaches and rivers every year. Over the past weeks, we registered at least two deaths for every weekend in T&T.

There is something awfully wrong when news of drownings, especially during the school holidays, seem to be as routine as playing ball in the sand.

It is true that we will never be able to totally avoid these tragic deaths, especially when considering the dangerous rip tides and undercurrents found at many of our beaches.

There is more we can do, though.

And we can begin at home. Every responsible parent or caregiver must make sure, whenever possible, that their children grow up learning to swim and, above all, to respect the water.

The best advice anyone can give a child or a teenager is to always respect the sea, rivers and lakes. Even the most confident swimmer will tell you that they always respect the water as, at the end of the day, it is quite powerful and is not our natural environment.

Adults can also do their part by acting responsibly. Not only when it comes to watching and monitoring their children at all times when near water but also by making sure they themselves are not made incapable of helping someone by being too drunk. A drink or two whilst liming with family and friends may be fine but overdoing it can put yourself and your family at risk.

The state can also do its part in reducing easily avoidable deaths by drowning, especially during the peak season.

It’s true that individuals must bear responsibility for their actions, especially adults, and consider the risks if swimming where no lifeguards are present.

However, it is also important that the Government provides lifeguards where needed, in the numbers needed and with the facilities required. And lifeguards must be trained to an acceptable level.

Ideally, the country would also benefit from a functioning Air Guard to help with rescue operations when seabathers find themselves carried away from the beaches by the currents.

Unfortunately, we currently have the helicopters and pilots but no operational air support.

These are some of the more immediate actions required, from the public and the Government, to reduce these tragic and avoidable deaths and the trauma that will never leave family and friends of loved ones lost to our seas, rivers and lakes.

In the longer run, there is one single step that could simply transform the way we not only enjoy but also survive life surrounded by water—a comprehensive programme to get every child in our nation to learn to swim from the earliest possible age. Swimming lessons should be mandatory for all our primary and secondary school children in Trinidad and Tobago, not only the privilege of few who attend schools with pools or whose parents can afford private lessons.

Islands are, by nature, a place where everyone will always be relatively close to water at any given time. In ours, due to where the main towns are located and the focus of our main businesses, the majority of the population lives on or close to the coast—just consider the population in Port-of-Spain, Chaguanas, San Fernando and Scarborough alone, all of them by or close to the sea and criss-crossed by rivers.

Such a project will take time, resources and organisational effort to work but, if successful, we will be giving our children a much better chance of avoiding drowning as they grow up and as adults, with the advantage of giving them familiarity with one of the best ways to be fit and healthy.

The Government could go one step further and also help to encourage adults, including the elderly, to learn to swim as well.

This could be the most fitting tribute to little Natalia and the many others who died before and are likely to die after her in our beaches if nothing is done.