Summer is a boon for businesses by the beach: schoolís out, the weatherís sunny, and the slew of seaside activities on offer draws vacationers to the nearest coastline.
But the sand loverís favourite season is also a time to be wary of the water. According to the International Life Saving Federation (ILSF), drowning incidents peak in the summer when people flock to pools, beaches, lakes and rivers for recreation or relief from the warmer temperature. Most cases occur during the mid- to late-afternoon when the day is at its hottest and when swimmers are more likely to be drunk from alcohol.
At the greatest risk of drowning are infants and toddlers (those between 0 to 5 years old) because of their inability to swim and the lack of barriers to keep them from unsafe depths; as well as 20 to 25 year-olds, who are most predisposed to participate in water sports and are at their most reckless age. Also susceptible are people aged 60 and above, who often have health problems that could cause loss of consciousness at sea.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), males are twice as likely to die from drowning than females because they are more likely to exhibit riskier behaviour, such as swimming alone and drinking alcohol before going into the water.
In November last year, the WHO identified drowning as the third leading cause of unintentional injury deaths worldwide, comprising 7% of all injury-related fatalities. Sixty percent of these happen in the Western Pacific region and in Southeast Asia, with China and India recording a combined 43% of the total deaths.
Locally, a 2009 survey conducted in Los Banos, Laguna and Iligan City, Lanao del Norte by the Philippine Life Saving Society (PLS) and Safe Kids Philippines identified drowning as the second leading cause of death among Filipino children: 10.9% of the victims are aged 0 to 4 while 30.3% are aged 5 to 14. Boys are also more likely to drown than girls, accounting for 67% of the cases versus the latterís 33%.
The foreign travellerís unfamiliarity with hazards in Philippine waters is also a problem. Of the total number of tourists who drowned between 2009 and 2010, 44.4% were deaths from scuba diving, 22.2% were due to parasailing activities and 11.1% to snorkeling.
Most incidents, unsurprisingly, occur in places unsupervised by lifeguards, trained individuals who patrol aquatic surroundings and respond to life-threatening emergencies: At present, there are not enough lifesavers and rescue teams to keep watch over the countryís 37,000 km-long coastline.
Moreover, the Philippine Drowning Prevention Plan 2010-2015 recommends that all pool and beach lifeguards be required to hold an appropriate level of accreditation that recognizes their initial training and ingoing demonstration of competence. The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), which has linked with the PLS, already offers such a certification for pool and beach lifeguards.
The Philippine Red Cross also conducts training and subsequent accreditation for water safety, which covers survival and lifesaving techniques. Additionally, Red Crossís beach patrol and lifeguarding service provides public or private swimming places with trained water safety personnel, which is particularly useful during the summer months when big crowds flock to the beaches.
But ensuring the presence of lifeguards in swimming areas is only one approach. According to the WHO, individuals and communities must also be taught water survival skills and be made aware of the risks associated with drowning, while first responders should be equipped with proper know-how to provide first aid to help prevent seaside accidents. This is where the Red Crossís basic life support-cardiopulmonary resuscitation comes in. The program covers foreign airway obstruction management and rescue breathing, as well as bandaging techniques and emergency transfers.
The PDPP, which aims to halve the countryís annual 40,000 drowning incidents by 2015, likewise encourages resorts, hotels and parks to come up with risk management plans and carry out water safety measures. These include signage, effective barriers and education programs that discuss parental supervision on children, and an intensive water safety campaign that targets adolescent and adult tourists.
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