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Saving water during the drought could kill

11 December 2017 - 15:45 By Tanya Farber
Image: iStock

As the festive season begins‚ the tragedy of drowning looms over every family hanging out near a body of water and even those storing water in open containers during the crippling drought.

At the close of each year‚ there are on average 200 drownings in the Western Cape alone‚ with December often accounting for the lion’s share of that number.

Now‚ a research team has revealed who is most at risk‚ where and when. It has also come up with the country’s first ever preventative framework.

This could possibly lead to “new municipal bylaws and other enforcement mechanisms”‚ some of which would be related to private pools‚ Local Government‚ Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell told TimesLIVE.

He added that the province was “concerned” about such high death tolls‚ especially when about 40% of victims were younger than 14.

This is why the provincial government commissioned the South African Medical Research Council‚ along with other stakeholders‚ to conduct the research.

The first risk factor‚ according to the report‚ is any public holiday - of which the festive season has many (December 16‚ 25‚ 26 and January 1).

The age group most at risk are children under five years old‚ and it isn’t simply pools‚ beaches and rivers that are a threat. Open storage containers are too.

According to Colleen Saunders‚ a research manager at the Department of Emergency Medicine at UCT which forms part of the task team‚ open containers storing water “are especially relevant now as water restrictions and potential shortages drive more households to store water”.

Older children and adults‚ on the other hand‚ are more at risk of drowning in “open bodies of water” such as dams‚ lagoons‚ rivers and the sea.

“When we think of drowning‚ we usually think of oceans and swimming pools‚ but many of these kinds of accidents happen in dams and rivers‚ especially in the Western Cape‚” said Saunders.

Bredell said that safety measures “around private pools” in particular were “a challenge”‚ and Saunders said the team would thus be motivating for “municipal by-laws regulating the use of swimming pool barriers and covers.”

Also of interest is that males are at higher risk than females across all age groups.

The difference is especially wide for adolescents and young adults: For every adolescent or young female who drowns‚ 4.4 males die in the same way.

What is also not common knowledge is the risk posed to older people.

The over-60s are a group at high risk - possibly because of “unrelated health complications” like stroke and heart disease.

Then there are the “non-fatal” incidents which receive far less attention but which nonetheless leave victims permanently injured‚ disabled‚ or traumatised.

Such incidents have a “lasting social and economic impact on the province because of the associated health consequences‚” UCT said in a statement.

Said Bredell: “I will be taking the report and its recommendations to the forum for mayors with whom I meet on a regular basis.”

According to Saunders‚ “We have been working since then (the launch in November) to make sure that it doesn’t just become a dust collector on a desk somewhere.”

She said the framework “identifies seven key objectives for reducing drowning in the province” and that the task team wanted to make sure the messages received by the public from all the different stakeholders‚ including the NSRI‚ were “consistent”.

Already in the past few weeks: a man of 39 died while trying to cross a river mouth at Still Bay over the weekend‚ a 13-year-old drowned trying to save his friend in the lagoon in Kleinmond last month‚ a 21-year-old male died at his Christmas function in Lamberts Bay‚ and rip currents at Camps Bay killed another man - also 21.

There have also been other incidents across other areas of the country.