Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Drowning Cases Reported In Odisha And Suggestions By Experts To Prevent Them!

It must have never struck the imagination of the nine IT professionals from Bengaluru that their swimming amusement in the waters of Konark’s Chandrabhaga beach on October 22 would turn into their lives’ worst nightmare. Even worse, the sea would irreversibly claim the life of one their friends.


As these techies, under training at the IT firm Mindtree’s Bhubaneswar centre had been to Konark on a sight-seeing trip, they visited the nearest Chandrabhaga beach. The beach also happens to be one of the favourite beach attractions among young tourists travelling to Odisha. But unfortunately, for these young men and women, when they stepped into the water for bathing, one of the girls named Mansa N S was swept away by a strong current only to return dead from the sea.



Certainly not a rare case of accidental drowning, this incident, like several others, indicates how drowning cases have been on a rise across different water bodies of Odisha. In fact, a brief look at the number of registered cases of drowning in the month of October itself will point towards the frequency of occurrence of such events. At least, three separate incidents from Angul, Baliapanda block and Puri were reported in the same month with nearly six people losing their lives. The cases reported from Puri and Baliapanda were of two tourists from West Bengal who drowned in the sea while taking a bath. One accident took place near Swargadwar under Sea Beach police station jurisdiction, whereas another mishap occurred in Baliapanda area where the victims were swept away by strong current.


Similarly, a few cases were reported in the month of September too while a number of mishaps were reported in August including two major cases that grabbed much of media attention. Three students of the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Bhubaneswar, who had been to the banks of Mahanadi banks to take a bath at Gadagadiaghat in Cuttack, drowned on the afternoon of August 30.


Courtesy: WikiHow

Similarly, on August 28, two inmates of a child care institution drowned in the Kendrapara canal within the limits of Jagatpur police station. Though drowning has been a cause for unnatural accidental injuries and deaths, the spate in the drowning accidents not only in Odisha but all over India points towards an adamant disregard to warnings by the public and a lackadaisical attitude to fill in loopholes in security provision by the administration.



Figuring at 9.4 percent, drowning has been the second major reason of unnatural deaths in the country next to traffic accidents in 2014. It can be assumed that approximately 75 – 80 people drown each day on an average when the standard figure of drowning cases recorded is more or less 29,400 every year according to the data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for five years up till 2014.


Odisha, along with some other coastal states, ranks high on the list of the nationwide figures of unintentional deaths due to drowning. NCRB’s 2014 report registered some 794 deaths from drowning in Odisha poised against the national total of 29,903 in the same year. The numbers, therefore, corroborate the frequent reporting of such incidents in media.



Blessed with a beautiful coastline, Odisha’s beaches have always been a major attraction for tourists travelling to Odisha. While Puri, being the abode of Lord Jagannath, welcomes the maximum inflow of tourists from all over the state and outside, other beaches like Gopalpur and Chandrabhaga also find tourists flocking in all round the year. But with such huge number of tourists preferring to head to these beaches for having fun, these pockets also pose to be the most vulnerable spots for drowning incidents to happen.


But let alone the popular seaside destinations, riverside of the famous rivers of Odisha too are infamous for the occurrence of such incidents. The riversides of Mahanadi and Kathajodi in Cuttack and Daya river in Bhubaneswar register many drowning mishaps.



The reports generally inform that the majority of drowning victims are males. 23,166 males as compared to 6,736 females died of drowning in 2014. In a similar ratio, out of the 794 deaths from drowning that occurred in Odisha in the same year, 569 were males. Furthermore, children too face a significant risk from exposure to small or bigger water bodies, though not very high.


But, most of the drowning deaths are seen to happen among the youngsters in the age group of 18 to 45 years in natural water settings like the sea, rivers, lakes and ponds. “Since places like the sea beach or a river bank are considered ideal locations for a picnic or party where people can also have fun in the water, slight negligence can turn these places as the most vulnerable points for water accidents to happen,” says Cuttack based International rescue diver and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) instructor, Sabir Bux.


Courtesy: GettyImages



As per the NCRB report of 2014, of the 794 odd cases of drowning deaths in Odisha, 273 deaths occurred due to accidental falls into water body compared to the 15 deaths that resulted from boat capsizing.


The main factors affecting the risk of accidental drowning point towards the unpredictably of sea currents and under water currents, a lack of noticeable barriers to restrict access to water in unsupervised territories, lack of close supervision while swimming, irresponsible entry into water with a lack of swimming ability, the location, influence of alcohol consumption and failure to wear life jackets or any safety gear.


Having an experience of more than 25 years in diving and rescue operations, Bux feels that the waters have become increasingly unpredictable owing to the global warming phenomenon. “Earlier there were specific times when certain currents would flow. It was much easier to understand the pattern and step into the water. But today it is definitely out of bounds for a common man,” he says.


As Bux clearly points out, lack of proper signage or warning boards at potentially dangerous points and lack of adequate supervision at these spots are major reasons behind these accidents. “Though the administration is now slowly waking up to the gravity of the situation, it is still far from doing the needful. Safe and unsafe bathing zones are not clearly demarcated and there is normally no fencing to keep away wanderers.”


Courtesy: Shutterstock

But what Bux finds surprising is that many people enter the water without the minimum ability to swim. Tempted by a sense of adventure or provoked by friends when in a group, they are lured by the excitement of taking a plunge in these vast water bodies.


“To this, alcohol consumption among the adults and adolescents is associated with almost 80% of the deaths during water recreation. Alcohol influences a person’s physical balance, coordination, and mental judgement. They become uncontrollable and disobey all warnings. Exposure to heat and sun after alcohol intake heightens its effect putting the individual at the risk of drowning,” warns the expert diver.



So, do all these factors point to a solution that increasing supervision and tightening of security near these water bodies can help?


“Not exactly!” says lifeguard Harry, stationed at the Puri Beach, who feels that the foremost responsibility of safety lies in the hands of people themselves. “One should always be aware and look for signs or instructions before venturing into the water. Most of them get carried away by fun and do not act sensibly. They usually argue with the locals or lifeguards who warn them if the water is dangerous in a particular spot or time. This becomes a big challenge for the lifeguards to save people from an imminent case of drowning,” informs the lifeguard.


Both Bux and Harry feel disappointed that despite many complaints, the government is yet to respond with any urgency to make the beaches and riversides safer. In their opinion, the measures taken are mostly inadequate for the safety and security of the tourists who come for sea or river bathing.


“Although these days, the state government has provided sufficient man power for the beaches, it is not distributed properly among all designated places. There are around 400 working lifeguards of which 96 have been appointed by the government but many of the lifeguards are not properly trained. In some of the extreme cases, lifeguards cannot save the life of a victim all by themselves. They need the support of some equipments which are not available in adequate quantities. The equipments should generally include awareness boards, walky-talky, mega phones, live bike, rescue tube, rescue boat, high sped craft, and all terrain bikes. Not only that, even after being rescued, many lose their lives as there is no immediate medical assistance available for them. There is a serious requirement of ambulance or a patrolling jeep with first aid facilities. Besides, police assistance booths on the beach, proper lighting and allotment of quick response teams together account for proper beach management that we still lack in,” explains Harry.



The authorities, however, point towards an arrogant negligence on the part of youngsters while arguing that take all likely measures to bring down these instances.


Inspector in charge of Puri Sea Beach Police Station, Prabhat Mallik says, “We are taking all the possible steps to reduce drowning deaths. Recently on October 25th, we held a workshop on drowning issues for officers and personnels concerned. It was decided in the same meeting that the Puri sea beach will be divided in four zones according to the degree of vulnerability in that particular zone. There will be a ‘no-bathing zone’, ‘unsafe bathing zone’, ‘assisted bathing zone’ and ‘bathing zone’. We have also appointed around 96 life guards to assist people and save them from drowning, and all of them will have their duties distributed across the 14 zones of the beach. Although, our lifeguards do not have any advanced equipment yet, we are trying to provide them with the facilities as soon as we can.”


However, District Fire Officer of Puri B.K. Panda tells MCL team that there are many challenges that they face while conducting a rescue operation. “Most of the time when we receive information about the incident, it is generally after the person has drowned. As a person can survive under water only for five to seven minutes at the most, it is impossible to save them by the time we reach the spot. So to address this problem, we have appointed lifeguards in such places, which has proved to be successful so far,” he says.


But he is quick to point out that the biggest challenge remains convincing people not to go into the waters during high tide. The other challenge, of course, is the shortage of life saving equipment at their disposal. Also, though a convenient arrangement, training the locals to undertake rescue operations is difficult in the face of disinterest on their part as there is no incentive for them to engage in such dangerous activities.


However, after frequent drowning incidents in Cuttack’s Mahanadi and Kathjodi rivers, the Cuttack District Administration has undertaken certain measures to reduce these accidents. District Collector Nirmal Chandra Mishra has recently informed the media about the several warning signboards and barricades that they have installed along the river side road to prohibit adventurous venturing into the river.



The deaths apart, drowning causes severe injuries to those who survive the incident. About self protection measures, Bux says, “Being a life guard, I would like to suggest that without knowing swimming, one should not go under water. In worst case, victim should keep breathing under water and put all efforts to exercise his/her hand and leg to float there.




Sabir Bux gives us some general tips to heed when you sense danger.

  • Obviously, the first thing to remember is not to panic! Try to stay as relaxed as possible. Tense muscles use up more oxygen than relaxed muscles, and staying oxygenated is very important.
  • Keep your head up and try to breathe normally. The body floats better when the lungs are full of air, but do avoid hyperventilating.
  • Toss away anything weighing you down such as shoes or bags.
  • Attract attention of the people around, by shouting, waving and/or splashing water (to the extent you are able to).
  • If you are tired, try to lie on your back and tilt your head back as well so your eyes look at the sky.
  • Never go for a swim alone, make sure you’ve got a group along.


Adding further he says, “In case you are witnessing the incident, ‘Do Not’ attempt to rescue the drowning person by entering the water if you have not been trained as you will be endangering yourself. Rather, throw a flotation device such as a rescue tube and life jacket, or extend a long pole for the drowning person to hold onto.”


Since accidents in the water can cause major spinal, neck, or head injuries, be careful to keep the head and neck of the victim still. One may also begin resuscitation/CPR if there is no spontaneous breathing or pulse.


Ft.Image Courtesy: NationalJournal