ON average, about 700 cases of drowning are reported each year, or about two people die in water bodies daily.
If nothing drastic is done, drowning cases may be as serious as road crash problem, where between 6,000 and 7,000 people are killed each year.
The Civil Defence Force (APM)’s initiative to set up Malaysia’s own Baywatch lifeguards should receive a thumbs-up.
Not many Malaysians are aware that APM, a unit under the Prime Minister’s Department, has a team of 150 trained lifeguards stationed at 41 popular beaches around the country.
Last year, APM handled 514 cases of drowning and minor injuries involving jellyfish stings and others, compared with 715 such cases in 2016.
We have many beaches, waterfalls, lakes and water parks in the country that draw hordes of local and foreign visitors, but many of them are unaware of the hazards posed by the water bodies.
I am pleased to learn that Malaysia’s Baywatch lifeguards not only patrol the beaches, but also monitor the sea and the surrounding areas from lookout towers.
However, the public must heed the warnings from the Baywatch team. A white flag hoisted at the Baywatch tower would mean the sea conditions are safe for swimming and water activities, while a red flag warns all to steer clear of the water.
I hope that the local authorities and other agencies would emulate APM’s initiative by providing lifeguards in popular water recreational areas and theme parks.
They must also create awareness on drowning as public apathy towards safety is evident not only at popular beaches, but also other water recreational areas, especially during school holidays.
The government should amend the law to empower lifeguards to take action against those who do not heed warnings.
There is also an urgent need for a complete database on drowning cases so that a comprehensive plan could be drawn up to reduce such incidents.
The database will enable the authorities, through relevant agencies and the National Water Activity Safety Council, to develop short- and long-term measures to address the issue.
At present, data on drowning cases are collected by agencies such as the Fire and Rescue Department, APM, the Department of Statistics and the Health Ministry. The figures may vary because each agency collects data for a specific purpose.
During a drowning prevention seminar in Penang last year, Perak Clinical Research Centre head Datuk Dr Amar Singh said a study by the Perak CRC showed that about 500 children died due to drowning annually and that it was the second highest cause of death among those under 18.
He also revealed that for the first nine months of last year, 31 children drowned in swimming pools and theme parks.
The highest number of cases were recorded in Selangor, Kedah and Pahang, with about 75 per cent of the children under 5.
All parties should make drowning prevention a part of their culture, while children and students should be taught how to avoid being victims.
Learning how to swim should be encouraged among children.
I would like to call on all parties to reduce the number of drowning cases, as well as other forms of accidents, by embracing the safety culture of accident prevention.
TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE
Member, National Water Activity