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Prevent drowning

Ramneek Goundar
Thursday, January 24, 2013

WHEN you're spending the day splashing around at the pool, beach or river, drowning may not be the first thing on your mind. Yet Fiji has one of the highest drowning rates in the world.

Between January and October 2012, Fiji lost 53 lives due to drowning, double the figure for the same period in 2011.

Economically this equates to 6.5million dollars loss per year.

Half a million people die each year due to drowning world-wide. It is the leading cause of injury and death for young children ages one to four.

Three children die every day as a result of drowning globally.

Poor adult supervision, the inability to swim, risky behavior and poor decisions add to the death toll from drowning in waterways around Fiji.

Most of these deaths are predictable and preventable. Being aware of the risks and making safe choices are proven ways to prevent drowning injuries and deaths.

People that are often ignorant of the risks or overconfident in their abilities simply engage in risky behaviours like crossing flooded creeks and rivers, playing in flash flood waters, and not taking heed of the weather notices.

In 2009, a research study in Fiji using Fiji Police Force Statistics (2002-2006) revealed that young children and youths (0-29 year olds) especially i-Taukei male are the most likely to engage in risky behavior.

The study revealed that flooding in rivers and creeks was an issue, more so during natural disasters which result in frequent flash flooding (in rivers). In Fiji, highest occurrences of drowning deaths occurred in natural waterways, freshwater (30 per cent) and seawater (14 per cent.)

It does not take a lot of water for a person or child to drown.

The 2009 research study revealed that eight per cent drowned around home environment, a toddler drowned in a tinned biscuit container filled with water while another drowned in the toilet pan.

In 2012 alone, there were 24 children under the age of 10 years who drowned. In the past week, two toddlers in Fiji drowned.

As children grow older, the percentage drowning in natural water such as rivers, streams, ponds, and oceans increase. Experts say, more than half of those older than 15 years, drown in natural waters. Parental supervision is a crucial factor in protecting children from drowning. They are the lifeguards at home.

Fiji is surrounded by beautiful natural waterways and beaches complemented with a warm tropical climate. From November to April as the days become hotter, the coolness of the waterways beckons to people of all ages. The 2009 study in Fiji using Fiji Police data, revealed that a majority (30 per cent) of deaths by drowning occurred between December and January.

This period is marked by hot weather, school holidays, and the festive season. This is also the wet hurricane season with an average annual rainfall of 3000 mm around the coast to 6000 mm in the mountains.

Natural factors like hot weather, high rainfall, hurricane season, and beautiful waterways, which also coincide with the festive season, create an environment that greatly increase the risk of drowning. People are most likely to spend time in waterways in a period of time where waterways may not the best place to be.

Pristine natural waterways, a serene lush environment and the company of friends can entice you to let your guard down but rest assured all waterways can be dangerous. Know your waterway, know your weather and always enter unknown waters with your feet first.

Strong currents have a tendency to take you where they want, not where you want to go. Even experienced divers testify to this.

A rip current can pull swimmers away from shore at a rate of two meters per second or more. If you are caught in a rip current, try and swim parallel to the shore line until you are out of the current, than swim towards the shore.

The 2009 research study also revealed that the highest percentage of drowning victims were reported to be swimming at the time of the incident.

Twenty five per cent were engaged in leisure activities like bathing, swimming, playing, and snorkeling prior to drowning. Another 14 per cent had either an accidental fall or incidents related to watercraft or vehicle causing submersion. Others drowned in floodwaters, while fishing or diving for seafood. The police at public waterways also play the role of lifeguards although Fiji should consider providing advanced swimming and lifesaving skills to selected community members near popular public beaches who could then act as lifeguards.

Drowning happens quickly and people have just a couple of seconds to think or react to save a life. Anticipating such dangers, having basic water safety and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) skills is critical for preventing death. Basic water safety skills and swimming should be a compulsory part of all levels of education in Fiji. All youths and adults in Fiji should learn CPR.

In the time it might take to look for help, your CPR skills could save someone's life.

Resources that all people could use for prevention of drowning are readily available on the web, in sites like Safe Kids http://www.safekids.org/safety-basics/safety-resources-by-risk-area/drowning/ and CDC http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/water-safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html

You think drowning can never happen to your kids, yet at the beginning of almost every year, we lose a child's life to drowning.

Evidence suggests that there are five major contributing factors to children drowning.

1. Weak or no supervision

Children drown quickly and silently-in a matter of seconds. Adults who were present when a child drowns were often distracted in some way, washing the clothes, cooking, drinking grog with friends, gone to the neighbors or talking on the phone.

2. No Barriers

Curious children, especially those younger than age four, can easily fall in to streams, rivers, pools, tubs and buckets. Often they are discovered too late to save. Never leave a child alone when in or near a body of water-even if it's less than a few inches.

3. Weak or No CPR skills

Drowning victims, who are rescued, need CPR immediately. It will be the difference between life and death. In Fiji CPR classes are offered regularly by organisations such as Fiji Red Cross and St Johns Ambulance.

4. Can't Swim

Children who cannot swim are eight times more likely to be at risk of drowning. To all parents in Fiji, please make sure your children can swim. Swimming should be a compulsory part of education in Fiji. Statistics from the Fiji Police Force show that Fiji lost 128 children under the age of 10 in the last 11 years.

5. Not using life jackets

Evidence from drowning incidents on a boat reveal that 9 out of 10 were not wearing life jackets.

The lesson is to have life jackets in all boats but if you can't afford them, hang onto anything that floats, even coconuts.

In December 2012, a five-month-old baby and a 7-year-old boy drowned while travelling with 10 other passengers in a 23ft fiber glass boat en-route to Vatulele Island.

The formation of the Fiji Water Council in February 2012 with the vision to reduce drowning death in injury in Fiji combined with the appointment of a full time senior police officer is a good step.

However these efforts need resources and the support of every single person in Fiji. You can start by sending an e-card (http://t.cdc.gov/ecards/message) to everyone you know. It costs you nothing to save someone from drowning.

Evidence further states that the best proven activity that prevents drowning is responsible adult supervision. So keep an eye on your young ones and watch them grow into healthy productive Fijians.

nRamneek Goundar is a final year PhD student with Deakin University who completed a Situational Analysis of Drowning in Fiji in 2009 as part of the TRIP study (University of Auckland, Fiji School of Medicine)