AS the summer season fast approaches, many adults and children will be flocking to the water to cool down and safety experts have issued a stern warning to parents: “Don’t take your eyes off your children for even a second!”
Three children drown in South Africa every day according to Swim Alive. For every child who drowns, five are left brain damaged, as only four minutes without oxygen can cause irreversible brain damage, they say.
“With Nelson Mandela Bay already experiencing high temperatures, children cool down wherever they can, most of them unsupervised, and that is very dangerous,” Summerstrand lifesaving spokesman Stanford Slabbert said.
“There are numerous dams and bodies of water where youngsters swim that are not suitable because of health reasons. Many of these children also do not know how to swim.
“The problem stems from non-experienced children panicking and gulping in water. It takes just a matter of seconds for a child to drown.”
Pools are also of concern. A pilot bylaw in Gauteng states all pools – including private residential pools – must be covered or the pool must be enclosed with a fence.
Should the bylaw prove effective in curbing drownings, it may be implemented in Nelson Mandela Bay.
Swimpool Centre owner Lawrence Kraitzick said there should not be access to a domestic swimming pool from the street, and that having a bylaw enforcing covers or fences could be useful.
“It would be a good idea to enforce something like that,” said Kraitzick, who has 34 years experience in the business.
Municipal spokesman Kupido Baron said it was not possible to police all bodies of water.
“What we do have is a swimming programme that teaches children water safety and how to swim.”
The municipality’s aquatic development officer, Paul Niemann, said they had been hosting various water safety programmes for the last six years.
“The municipality has a development programme in place that allows us to go to various schools in disadvantaged areas and teach them water safety aspects,” said Niemann.
One such programme, Learn2swim, trains members of the community who then train about 20 children to swim over a 10-week course.
Another programme is Pool Splash where basic safety skills are taught to children.
Niemann visited Redhouse last weekto talk to the children about the river and safety.
He said drownings during the summer season had become a regular occurrence in this area.
“Children will be children and even though we would prefer they do not swim in the river, they end up doing so.
“Giving them basic tips like not diving into murky water and not swimming alone and entering the water slowly could save a life.
“We also run an oceans programme which teaches children water safety, how to have fun on the beach and also about tides,” Niemann said.
Beaches can also be dangerous, but most are manned by municipal lifeguards.
Main beaches like Pollok, Kings, Wells Estate, Bluewater Bay and Brighton Beach will attract a number of bathers this season and Michael Zoetmulder from Zports said even though there were lifeguards on duty, bathers should take caution.
He said swimming in areas not demarcated by flags on any of the beaches was very dangerous.
“The flags are in place to protect bathers. Hobie, Kings and Humewood experience rip tides and even the most experienced swimmers could get into difficulty.”
Zoetmulder said parents should remember the number one rule of never leaving your children unattended.
“Many problems arise in the areas where children are swimming in estuaries, rivers and dams where there is no supervision and many of them cannot swim.
“Places like the North End lake are also not suitable for swimming at the moment.”
The opening of two new pools in the Zwide and Kwanobuhle areas will give residents access to proper facilities where there will be lifeguards on duty.
Lifesaving Eastern Cape regional secretary Marcelle Thompson said there would be about 400 volunteer lifeguards from the various clubs in Port Elizabeth on duty from November 5 on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.
“The biggest thing we need to remind bathers about is staying within the demarcated area which is usually between flags.
“Youngsters should also not swim alone, after eating or after consuming alcohol,” Thompson said.
She said lifeguards would be on duty from 9am to 5pm in November and from about 8am to 6pm from the beginning of December to mid January and then reverting back to 9 to 5pm.
The municipality was this week unable to say how many lifeguards would be on duty at the beaches or swimming pools during the summer season.